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Title: Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Author: Ward, Maisie, 1889-1975
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Gilbert Keith Chesterton" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

Transcriber's note

   This electronic edition is intended to contain the complete,
   unaltered text of the first published edition of _Gilbert
   Keith Chesterton_ by Maisie Ward (New York: Sheed & Ward,
   1943), with the following exceptions:

   The index, and a few other references to page numbers that do
   not exist in this edition, have been omitted.

   Italics are represented by underscores at the beginning and
   end, _like this_.

   Footnotes* have been placed directly below the paragraph
   referring to them and enclosed in brackets.

      [* Like this.]

   Any other deviations from the text of the first edition may be
   regarded as defects and attributed to the transcriber.





Introduction: Chiefly Concerning Sources


     I   Background for Gilbert Keith Chesterton
    II   Childhood
   III   School Days
    IV   Art Schools and University College
     V   The Notebook
    VI   Towards a Career
   VII   Incipit Vita Nova
  VIII   To Frances
    IX   A Long Engagement
     X   Who is G.K.C.?
    XI   Married Life in London
   XII   Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy
  XIII   Orthodoxy
   XIV   Bernard Shaw
    XV   From Battersea to Beaconsfield
   XVI   A Circle of Friends
  XVII   The Disillusioned Liberal
 XVIII   The Eye Witness
   XIX   Marconi
    XX   The Eve of the War (1911-1915)
   XXI   The War Years
  XXII   After the Armistice
 XXIII   Rome via Jerusalem
  XXIV   Completion
   XXV   The Reluctant Editor (1925-1930)
  XXVI   The Distributist League and Distributism
 XXVII   Silver Wedding
XXVIII   Columbus
  XXIX   The Soft Answer
   XXX   Our Lady's Tumbler
  XXXI   The Living Voice
 XXXII   Last Days


Appendix A--An Earlier Chesterton
Appendix B--Prize Poem Written at St. Paul's
Appendix C--_The Chestertons_



Chiefly Concerning Sources

THE MATERIAL FOR this book falls roughly into two parts: spoken and
written. Gilbert Chesterton was not an old man when he died and many
of his friends and contemporaries have told me incidents and recalled
sayings right back to his early boyhood. This part of the material
has been unusually rich and copious so that I could get a clearer
picture of the boy and the young man than is usually granted to the

The book has been in the making for six years and in three countries.
Several times I hid it aside for some months so as to be able to get
a fresh view of it. I talked to all sorts of people, heard all sorts
of ideas, saw my subject from every side; I went to Paris to see one
old friend, to Indiana to see others, met for the first time in
lengthy talk Maurice Baring, H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw; went to
Kingsland to see Mr. Belloc; gathered Gilbert's boyhood friends of
the Junior Debating Club in London and visited "Father Brown" among
his Yorkshire moors.

Armed with a notebook, I tried to miss none who had known Gilbert
well, especially in his youth: E. C. Bentley, Lucian Oldershaw,
Lawrence Solomon, Edward Fordham. I had ten long letters from Annie
Firmin, my most valuable witness as to Gilbert's childhood. For
information on the next period of his life, I talked to Monsignor
O'Connor, to Hilaire Belloc, Maurice Baring, Charles Somers Cocks, F.
Y. Eccles and others, besides being now able to draw on my own
memories. Frances I had talked with on and off about their early
married years ever since I had first known them, but she was, alas,
too ill and consequently too emotionally unstrung during the last
months for me to ask her all the questions springing in my mind.
"Tell Maisie," she said to Dorothy Collins, "not to talk to me about
Gilbert. It makes me cry."

For the time at Beaconsfield, out of a host of friends the most
valuable were Dr. Pocock and Dr. Bakewell. Among priests, Monsignors
O'Connor and Ronald Knox, Fathers Vincent McNabb, O.P. and Ignatius
Rice, O.S.B. were especially intimate.

Dorothy Collins's evidence covers a period of ten years. That of H.
G. Wells and Bernard Shaw is reinforced by most valuable letters
which they have kindly allowed me to publish.

Then too Gilbert was so much of a public character and so popular
with his fellow journalists that stories of all kinds abound:
concerning him there is a kind of evidence, and very valuable it is,
that may be called a Boswell Collective. It is fitting that it should
be so. We cannot picture G.K. like the great lexicographer
accompanied constantly by one ardent and observant witness, pencil in
hand, ready to take notes over the teacups. (And by the way, in spite
of an acquaintance who regretted in this connection that G.K. was not
latterly more often seen in taverns, it was over the teacups, even
more than over the wine glasses, that Boswell made his notes. I have
seen Boswell's signature after wine--on the minutes of a meeting of
The Club--and he was in no condition then for the taking of notes.
Even the signature is almost illegible.) But it is fitting that
Gilbert, who loved all sorts of men so much, should be kept alive for
the future by all sorts of men. From the focussing of many views from
many angles this picture has been composed, but they are all views of
one man, and the picture will show, I think, a singular unity. When
Whistler, as Gilbert himself once said, painted a portrait he made
and destroyed many sketches--how many it did not matter, for all,
even of his failures, were fruitful--but it would have mattered
frightfully if each time he looked up he found a new subject sitting
placidly for his portrait. Gilbert was fond of asking in the _New
Witness_ of people who expressed admiration for Lloyd George: "Which
George do you mean?" for, chameleon-like, the politician has worn
many colours and the portrait painted in 1906 would have had to be
torn up in 1916. But gather the Chesterton portraits: read the files
when he first grew into fame: talk to Mr. Titterton who worked with
him on the _Daily News_ in 1906 and on _G.K.'s Weekly_ in 1936,
collect witnesses from his boyhood to his old age, from Dublin to
Vancouver: individuals who knew him, groups who are endeavoring to
work out his ideas: all will agree on the ideas and on the man as
making one pattern throughout, one developing but integrated mind and

Gathering the material for a biography bears some resemblance to
interrogating witnesses in a Court of Law. There are good witnesses
and bad: reliable and unreliable memories. I remember an old lady, a
friend of my mother's, who remarked with candour after my mother had
confided to her something of importance: "My dear, I must go and
write that down immediately before my imagination gets mixed with my
memory." One witness must be checked against another: there will be
discrepancies in detail but the main facts will in the end emerge.

Just now and again, however, a biographer, like a judge, meets a
totally unreliable witness.

One event in this biography has caused me more trouble than anything
else: the Marconi scandal and the trial of Cecil Chesterton for
criminal libel which grew out of it. As luck would have it, it was on
this that I had to interrogate my most unreliable witness. I had seen
no clear and unbiased account so I had to read the many pages of Blue
Book and Law Reports besides contemporary comment in various papers.
I have no legal training, but one point stuck out like a spike. Cecil
Chesterton had brought accusations against Godfrey Isaacs not only
concerning his own past career as a company promoter, but also
concerning his dealings with the government over the Marconi
contract, in connection with which he had also fiercely attacked
Rufus Isaacs, Herbert Samuel and other ministers of the Crown. But in
the witness box he accepted the word of the very ministers he had
been attacking, and declared that he no longer accused them of
corruption: which seemed to me a complete abandonment of his main

Having drafted my chapter on Marconi, I asked Mrs. Cecil Chesterton
to read it, but more particularly to explain this point. She gave me
a long and detailed account of how Cecil had been intensely reluctant
to take this course, but violent pressure had been exerted on him by
his father and by Gilbert who were both in a state of panic over the
trial. Unlikely as this seemed, especially in Gilbert's case, the
account was so circumstantial, and from so near a connection, that I
felt almost obliged to accept it. What was my amazement a few months
later at receiving a letter in which she stated that after "a great
deal of close research work, re-reading of papers, etc." (in
connection with her own book _The Chestertons_) and after a talk with
Cecil's solicitors, she had become convinced that Cecil had acted as
he had because "the closest sleuthing had been unable to discover any
trace" of investments by Rufus Isaacs in English Marconis. "For this
reason Cecil took the course he did--not through family pressure.
That pressure, _I still feel_,* was exerted, though possibly not
until the trial was over."

[* Italics mine.]

It was, then, the lady's feelings and not facts that had been offered
to me as evidence, and it was the merest luck that my book had not
appeared before Cecil's solicitors had spoken.

The account given in Lord Birkenhead's _Famous Trials_ is the Speech
for the Prosecution. Mrs. Cecil Chesterton's chapter is an
impressionist sketch of the court scene by a friend of the defendant.
What was wanted was an impartial account, but I tried in vain to
write it. The chronology of events, the connection between the
Government Commission and the Libel Case, the connection between the
English and American Marconi companies--it was all too complex for
the lay mind, so I turned the chapter over to my husband who has had
a legal training and asked him to write it for me.

_The Chestertons_ is concerned with Gilbert and Frances as well as
with Cecil; and the confusion between memory and imagination--to say
nothing of reliance on feelings unsupported by facts--pervades the
book. It can only be called a Legend, so long growing in Mrs. Cecil's
mind that I am convinced that when she came to write her book she
firmly believed in it herself. The starting-point was so ardent a
dislike for Frances that every incident poured fuel on the flame and
was seen only by its light. When I saw her, the Legend was beginning
to shape. She told me various stories showing her dislike: facts
offered by me were either denied or twisted to fit into the pattern.
I do not propose to discuss here the details of a thoroughly
unreliable book. Most of them I think answer themselves in the course
of this biography. With one or two points I deal in Appendix C. But I
will set down here one further incident that serves to show just how
little help this particular witness could ever be.

For, like Cecil's solicitors, I spoilt one telling detail for her.
She told me with great enthusiasm that Cecil had said that Gilbert
was really in love not with Frances but with her sister Gertrude, and
that Gertrude's red hair accounted for the number of red-headed
heroines in his stories. I told her, however, on the word of their
brother-in-law, that Gertrude's hair was not red. Mr. Oldershaw in
fact seemed a good deal amused: he said that Gilbert never looked at
either of the other sisters, who were "not his sort," and had eyes
only for Frances. Mrs. Cecil however would not relinquish this dream
of red hair and another love. In her book she wishes "red-gold" hair
on to Annie Firmin, because in the _Autobiography_ Gilbert had
described her golden plaits. But unluckily for this new theory
Annie's hair was yellow,* which is quite a different colour. And
Annie, who is still alive, is also amused at the idea that Gilbert
had any thought of romance in her connection.

[* See G.K.'s letter to her daughter, p. 633 [Chapter XXXI].]

When Frances Chesterton gave me the letters and other documents, she
said: "I don't want the book to appear in a hurry: not for at least
five years. There will be lots of little books written about Gilbert;
let them all come out first. I want your book to be the final and
definitive Biography."

The first part of this injunction I have certainly obeyed, for it
will be just seven years after his death that this book appears. For
the second half, I can say only that I have done the best that in me
lies to obey it also. And I am very grateful to those who have
preceded me with books depicting one aspect or another of my subject.
I have tried to make use of them all as part of my material, and some
are "little" merely in the number of their pages. I am especially
grateful to Hilaire Belloc, Emile Cammaerts, Cyril Clemens and
"Father Brown" (who have allowed me to quote with great freedom). I
want to thank Mr. Seward Collins, Mr. Cyril Clemens and the
University of Notre Dame for the loan of books; Mrs. Bambridge for
the use of a letter from Kipling and a poem from _The Years Between_.

Even greater has been the kindness of those friends of my own and of
Gilbert Chesterton's who have read this book in manuscript and made
very valuable criticisms and suggestions: May Chesterton, Dorothy
Collins, Edward Connor, Ross Hoffman, Mrs. Robert Kidd, Arnold Lunn,
Mgr. Knox, Father Murtagh, Father Vincent McNabb, Lucian Oldershaw,
Beatrice Warde, Douglas Woodruff, Monsignor O'Connor.

Most of the criticisms were visibly right, while even those with
which I could not concur showed me the weak spot in my work that had
occasioned them. They have helped me to improve the book--I think I
may say enormously.

One suggestion I have not followed--that one name should be used
throughout: either Chesterton or Gilbert or G.K., but not all three.
I had begun with the idea of using "Chesterton" when speaking of him
as a public character and also when speaking of the days before I did
in fact call him "Gilbert." But this often left him and Cecil mixed
up: then too, though I seldom used "G.K." myself, other friends
writing to me of him often used it. I began to go through the
manuscript unifying--and then I noticed that in a single paragraph of
his _Bernard Shaw_ Gilbert uses "GBS," "Shaw," "Bernard Shaw," and
"Mr. Shaw." Here was a precedent indeed, and it seemed to me that it
was really the natural thing to do. After all we do talk of people
now by one name, now by another: it is a matter of slight importance
if of any, and I decided to let it go.

As to size, I am afraid the present book is a large one--although not
as large as Boswell's _Johnson_ or _Gone with the Wind_. But in this
matter I am unrepentant, for I have faith in Chesterton's own public.
The book is large because there is no other way of getting Chesterton
on to the canvas. It is a joke he would himself have enjoyed, but it
is also a serious statement. For a complete portrait of Chesterton,
even the most rigorous selection of material cannot be compressed
into a smaller space. I have first written at length and then cut and

At first I had intended to omit all matter already given in the
_Autobiography_. Then I realised that would never do. For some things
which are vital to a complete Biography of Chesterton are not only
told in the _Autobiography_ better than I could tell them, but are
recorded there and nowhere else. And this book is not merely a
supplement to the _Autobiography_. It is the Life of Chesterton.

The same problem arises with regard to the published books and I have
tried to solve it on the same line. There has rung in my mind Mr.
Belloc's saying: "A man is his mind." To tell the story of a man of
letters while avoiding quotation from or reference to his published
works is simply not to tell it. At Christopher Dawson's suggestion I
have re-read all the books _in the order in which they were written_,
thus trying to get the development of Gilbert's mind perfectly clear
to myself and to trace the influences that affected him at various
dates. For this reason I have analysed certain of the books and not
others--those which showed this mental development most clearly at
various stages, or those (too many alas) which are out of print and
hard to obtain. But whenever possible in illustrating his mental
history I have used unpublished material, so that even the most
ardent Chestertonian will find much that is new to him.

For the period of Gilbert's youth there are many exercise books,
mostly only half filled, containing sketches and caricatures, lists
of titles for short stories and chapters, unfinished short stories.
Several completed fairy stories and some of the best drawings were
published in _The Coloured Lands_. Others are hints later used in his
own novels: there is a fragment of _The Ball and the Cross_, a first
suggestion for _The Man Who Was Thursday_, a rather more developed
adumbration of _The Napoleon of Notting Hill_. This I think is later
than most of the notebooks; but, after the change in handwriting,
apparently deliberately and carefully made by Gilbert around the date
at which he left St. Paul's for the Slade School, it is almost
impossible to establish a date at all exactly for any one of these
notebooks. Notes made later when he had formed the habit of dictation
became difficult to read, not through bad handwriting, but because
words are abbreviated and letters omitted.

Some of the exercise books appear to have been begun, thrown aside
and used again later. There is among them one only of real
biographical importance, a book deliberately used for the development
of a philosophy of life, dated in two places, to which I devote a
chapter and which I refer to as _the_ Notebook. This book is as
important in studying Chesterton as the Pensées would be for a
student of Pascal. He is here already a master of phrase in a sense
which makes a comparison with Pascal especially apt. For he often
packs so much meaning into a brilliant sentence or two that I have
felt it worth while, in dealing especially with some of the less
remembered books, to pull out a few of these sentences for quotation
apart from their context.

Other important material was to be found in _G.K.'s Weekly_, in
articles in other periodicals, and in unpublished letters. With some
of the correspondences I have made considerable use of both sides,
and if anyone pedantically objects that that is unusual in a
biography I will adapt a phrase of Bernard Shaw's which you will find
in this book, and say, "Hang it all, be reasonable! If you had the
choice between reading me and reading Wells and Shaw, wouldn't you
choose Wells and Shaw."



Background for Gilbert Keith Chesterton

IT IS USUAL to open a biography with some account of the subject's
ancestry. Chesterton, in his _Browning_, after some excellent foolery
about pedigree-hunting, makes the suggestion that middle-class
ancestry is far more varied and interesting than the ancestry of the

   The truth is that aristocrats exhibit less of the romance of
   pedigree than any other people in the world. For since it is their
   principle to marry only within their own class and mode of life,
   there is no opportunity in their case for any of the more interesting
   studies in heredity; they exhibit almost the unbroken uniformity of
   the lower animals. It is in the middle classes that we find the
   poetry of genealogy; it is the suburban grocer standing at his shop
   door whom some wild dash of Eastern or Celtic blood may drive
   suddenly to a whole holiday or a crime.

This may provide fun for a guessing game but is not very useful to a
biographer. The Chesterton family, like many another, had had the ups
and downs in social position that accompany the ups and downs of
fortune. Upon all this Edward Chesterton, Gilbert's father, as head
of the family possessed many interesting documents. After his death,
Gilbert's mother left his papers undisturbed. But when she died
Gilbert threw away, without examination, most of the contents of his
father's study, including all family records. Thus I cannot offer any
sort of family tree. But it is possible to show the kind of family
and the social atmosphere into which Gilbert Chesterton was born.

Some of the relatives say that the family hailed from the village of
Chesterton--now merged into Cambridge, of which they were Lords of
the Manor, but Gilbert refused to take this seriously. In an
introduction to a book called _Life in Old Cambridge_, he wrote:

I have never been to Cambridge except as an admiring visitor; I have
never been to Chesterton at all, either from a sense of unworthiness
or from a faint superstitious feeling that I might be fulfilling a
prophecy in the countryside. Anyone with a sense of the savour of the
old English country rhymes and tales will share my vague alarm that
the steeple might crack or the market cross fall down, for a smaller
thing than the coincidence of a man named Chesterton going to

At the time of the Regency, the head of the family was a friend of
the Prince's and (perhaps as a result of such company) dissipated his
fortunes in riotous living and incurred various terms of imprisonment
for debt. From his debtors' prisons he wrote letters, and sixty years
later Mr. Edward Chesterton used to read them to his family: as also
those of another interesting relative, Captain George Laval
Chesterton, prison reformer and friend of Mrs. Fry and of Charles
Dickens. A relative recalls the sentence: "I cried, Dickens cried, we
all cried," which makes one rather long for the rest of the letter.

George Laval Chesterton left two books, one a kind of autobiography,
the other a work on prison reform. It was a moment of enthusiasm for
reform, of optimism and of energy. Dickens was stirring the minds of
Englishmen to discover the evils in their land and rush to their
overthrow. Darwin was writing his _Origin of Species_, which in some
curious way increased the hopeful energy of his countrymen: they
seemed to feel it much more satisfying to have been once animal and
have become human than to be fallen gods who could again be made
divine. Anyhow, there were giants in those days and it was hope that
made them so.

When by an odd confusion the _Tribune_ described G. K. Chesterton as
having been born about the date that Captain Chesterton published his
books, he replied in a ballade which at once saluted and attacked:

   I am not fond of anthropoids as such,
   I never went to Mr. Darwin's school,
   Old Tyndall's ether, that he liked so much
   Leaves me, I fear, comparatively cool.
   I cannot say my heart with hope is full
   Because a donkey, by continual kicks,
   Turns slowly into something like a mule--
   I was not born in 1856.

   Age of my fathers: truer at the touch
   Than mine: Great age of Dickens, youth and yule:
   Had your strong virtues stood without a crutch,
   I might have deemed man had no need of rule,
   But I was born when petty poets pule,
   When madmen used your liberty to mix
   Lucre and lust, bestial and beautiful,
   I was not born in 1856.*

[* Quoted in _G. K. Chesterton: A criticism_. Aliston Rivers (1908)
pp. 243-244.]

Both _Autobiography_ and _Prison Life_ are worth reading.* They
breathe the "Great Gusto" seen by Gilbert in that era. He does not
quote them in his _Autobiography_, but, just mentioning Captain
Chesterton, dwells chiefly on his grandfather, who, while George
Laval Chesterton was fighting battles and reforming prisons, had
succeeded to the headship of a house agents' business in Kensington.
(For, the family fortunes having been dissipated, Gilbert's
great-grandfather had become first a coal merchant and then a house
agent.) A few of the letters between this ancestor and his son remain
and they are interesting, confirming Gilbert's description in the
_Autobiography_ of his grandfather's feeling that he himself was
something of a landmark in Kensington and that the family business
was honourable and important.

[* See Appendix A.]

The Chestertons, whatever the ups and downs of their past history,
were by now established in that English middle-class respectability
in which their son was to discover--or into which he was to bring--a
glow and thrill of adventurous romance. Edward Chesterton, Gilbert's
father, belonged to a serious family and a serious generation, which
took its work as a duty and its profession as a vocation. I wonder
what young house-agent today, just entering the family business,
would receive a letter from his father adjuring him to "become an
active steady and honourable man of business," speaking of "abilities
which only want to be judiciously brought out, of course assisted
with your earnest co-operation."

Gilbert's mother was Marie Grosjean, one of a family of twenty-three
children. The family had long been English, but came originally from
French Switzerland. Marie's mother was from an Aberdeen family of
Keiths, which gave Gilbert his second name and a dash of Scottish
blood which "appealed strongly to my affections and made a sort of
Scottish romance in my childhood." Marie's father, whom Gilbert never
saw, had been "one of the old Wesleyan lay-preachers and was thus
involved in public controversy, a characteristic which has descended
to his grandchild. He was also one of the leaders of the early
Teetotal movement, a characteristic which has not."*

[* _Autobiography_, pp. 11-12.]

When Edward became engaged to Marie Grosjean he complained that his
"dearest girl" would not believe that he had any work to do, but he
was in fact much occupied and increasingly responsible for the family

There is a flavour of a world very remote from ours in the packet of
letters between the two and from their various parents, aunts and
sisters to one another during their engagement. Edward illuminates
poems "for a certaln dear good little child," sketches the "look out
from home" for her mother, hopes they did not appear uncivil in
wandering into the garden together at an aunt's house and leaving the
rest of the company for too long. He praises a friend of hers as
"intellectual and unaffected, two excellent things in woman,"
describes a clerk sent to France with business papers who "lost them
all, the careless dog, except the _Illustrated London News_."

A letter to Marie from her sister Harriette is amusing. She describes
her efforts at entertaining in the absence of her mother. The company
were "great swells" so that her brother "took all the covers of the
chairs himself and had the wine iced and we dined in full dress--it
was very awful--considering myself as hostess." Poor girl, it was a
series of misfortunes. "The dinner was three-quarters of an hour
late, the fish done to rags." She had hired three dozen wine-glasses
to be sure of enough, but they were "brought in in twos and threes at
a time and then a hiatus as if they were being washed which they were

In the letters from parents and older relatives religious observances
are taken for granted and there is an obvious sincerity in the many
allusions to God's will and God's guidance of human life. No one
reading them could doubt that the description of a dying relative as
"ready for the summons" and to "going home" is a sincere one. Other
letters, notably Harriette's, do not lack a spice of malice in
speaking of those whose religion was unreal and affected--a
phenomenon that only appears in an age when real religion abounds.

Doubtless her generation was beginning to see Christianity with less
than the simplicity of their parents. They were hearing of Darwin and
Spencer, and the optimism which accompanied the idea of evolution was
turning religion into a vague glow which would, they felt, survive
the somewhat childish dogmas in which our rude ancestors had tried to
formulate it. But with an increased vagueness went also, with the
more liberal--and the Chestertons were essentially liberal both
politically and theologically--an increased tolerance. In several of
his letters, Edward Chesterton mentions the Catholic Church, and
certainly with no dislike. He went on one occasion to hear Manning
preach and much admired the sermon, although he notes too that he
found in it "no distinctively Roman Catholic doctrine." He belonged,
however, to an age that on the whole found the rest of life more
exciting and interesting than religion, an age that had kept the
Christian virtues and still believed that these virtues could stand
alone, without the support of the Christian creed.

The temptation to describe dresses has always to be sternly resisted
when dealing with any part of the Victorian era, so merely pausing to
note that it seems to have been a triumph on the part of Mrs.
Grosjean to have cut a _short_ skirt out of 8½ yards of material, I
reluctantly lay aside the letters at the time when Edward Chesterton
and Marie were married and had set about living happily ever after.

These two had no fear of life: they belonged to a generation which
cheerfully created a home and brought fresh life into being. In doing
it, they did a thousand other things, so that the home they made was
full of vital energies for the children who were to grow up in it.
Gilbert recollects his father as a man of a dozen hobbies, his study
as a place where these hobbies formed strata of exciting products,
awakening youthful covetousness in the matter of a new paint-box,
satisfying youthful imagination by the production of a toy-theatre.
His character, serene and humorous as his son describes him, is
reflected in his letters. Edward Chesterton did not use up his mental
powers in the family business. Taught by his father to be a good man
of business, he was in his private life a man of a thousand other
energies and ideas. "On the whole," says his son, "I am glad he was
never an artist. It might have stood in his way in becoming an
amateur. It might have spoilt his career; his private career. He
could never have made a vulgar success of all the thousand things be
did so successfully."

Here, Gilbert sees a marked distinction between that generation of
business men and the present in the use of leisure; he sees hobbies
as superior to sport. "The old-fashioned Englishman, like my father,
sold houses for his living but filled his own house with his life. A
hobby is not merely a holiday. . . . It is not merely exercising the
body instead of the mind, an excellent but now largely a recognised
thing. It is exercising the rest of the mind; now an almost neglected
thing." Edward Chesterton practised "water-colour painting and
modelling and photography and stained glass and fretwork and magic
lanterns and mediaeval illumination." And, moreover, "knew all his
English literature backwards."

It has become of late the fashion for any one who writes of his own
life to see himself against a dark background, to see his development
frustrated by some shadow of heredity or some horror of environment.
But Gilbert saw his life rather as the ancients saw it when _pietas_
was a duty because we had received so much from those who brought us
into being. This Englishman was grateful to his country, to his
parents, to his home for all that they had given him.

   I regret that I have no gloomy and savage father to offer to the
   public gaze as the true cause of all my tragic heritage; no pale-faced
   and partially poisoned mother whose suicidal instincts have cursed
   me with the temptations of the artistic temperament. I regret that
   there was nothing in the range of our family much more racy than a
   remote and mildly impecunious uncle; and that I cannot do my duty
   as a true modern, by cursing everybody who made me whatever I
   am. I am not clear about what that is; but I am pretty sure that
   most of it is my own fault. And I am compelled to confess that I
   look back to that landscape of my first days with a pleasure that
   should doubtless be reserved for the Utopias of the Futurist.*

[* G. K. Chesterton. _Autobiography_, pp. 22-3.]



GILBERT KEITH CHESTERTON was born on May 29, 1874 at a house in
Sheffield Terrace, Campden Hill, just below the great tower of the
Waterworks which so much impressed his childish imagination. Lower
down the hill was the Anglican Church of St. George, and here he was
baptised. When he was about five, the family moved to Warwick
Gardens. As old-fashioned London houses go, 11 Warwick Gardens is
small. On the ground floor, a back and front room were for the
Chestertons drawing-room and dining-room with a folding door between,
the only other sitting-room being a small study built out over the
garden. A long, narrow, green strip, which must have been a good deal
longer before a row of garages was built at the back, was Gilbert's
playground. His bedroom was a long room at the top of a not very high
house. For what is in most London houses the drawing-room floor is in
this house filled by two bedrooms and there is only one floor above it.

Cecil was five years younger than Gilbert, who welcomed his birth
with the remark, "Now I shall always have an audience," a prophecy
remembered by all parties because it proved so singularly false. As
soon as Cecil could speak, he began to argue and the brothers'
intercourse thenceforward consisted of unending discussion. They
always argued, they never quarrelled.

There was also a little sister Beatrice who died when Gilbert was
very young, so young that he remembered a fall she had from a
rocking-horse more clearly than he remembered her death, and in his
memory linked with the fall the sense of loss and sorrow that came
with the death.

It would be impossible to tell the story of his childhood one half
so well as he has told it himself. It is the best part of his
_Autobiography_. Indeed, it is one of the best childhoods in
literature. For Gilbert Chesterton most perfectly remembered the
exact truth, not only about what happened to a child, but about how
a child thought and felt. What is more, he sees childhood not as an
isolated fragment or an excursion into fairyland, but as his "real
life; the real beginnings of what should have been a more real life;
a lost experience in the land of the living."

   I was subconsciously certain then, as I am consciously certain now,
   that there was the white and solid road and the worthy beginning of
   the life of man; and that it is man who afterwards darkens it with
   dreams or goes astray from it in self-deception. It is only the grown
   man who lives a life of make-believe and pretending; and it is he who
   has his head in a cloud.*

[* _Autobiography_, p. 49.]

Here are the beginnings of the man's philosophy in the life and
experience of the child. He was living in a world of reality, and
that reality was beautiful, in the clear light of "an eternal
morning," which "had a sort of wonder in it, as if the world were as
new as myself." A child in this world, like God in the moment of
creation, looks upon it and sees that it is very good. It was not
that he was never unhappy as a child, and he had his share of bodily
pain. "I had a fair amount of toothache and especially earache." But
the child has his own philosophy and makes his own proportion, and
unhappiness and pain "are of a different texture or held on a
different tenure."

   What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a
   wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a
   miraculous world. What gives me this shock is almost anything I
   really recall; not the things I should think most worth recalling.
   This is where it differs from the other great thrill of the past, all
   that is connected with first love and the romantic passion; for that,
   though equally poignant, comes always to a point; and is narrow like
   a rapier piercing the heart, whereas the other was more like a
   hundred windows opened on all sides of the head.*

[* _Autobiography_, pp. 31-32.]

These windows opening on all sides so much more swiftly for the
genius than for the rest of us, led to a result often to be noted in
the childhood of exceptional men: a combination of backwardness and
precocity. Gilbert Chesterton was in some ways a very backward child.
He did not talk much before three. He learnt to read only at eight.

He loved fairy tales; as a child he read them or had them read aloud
to him: as a big boy he wrote and illustrated a good many, some of
which are printed in _The Coloured Lands_. I have found several
fragments in praise of Hans Andersen written apparently in his
schooldays. In the chapter of _Orthodoxy_ called "The Ethics of
Elfland" he shows how the truth about goodness and happiness came to
him out of the old fairy tales and made the first basis for his
philosophy. And George Macdonald's story _The Princess and the
Goblin_ made, he says, "a difference to my whole existence, which
helped me to see things in a certain way from the start." It is the
story of a house where goblins were in the cellar and a kind of fairy
godmother in a hidden room upstairs. This story had made "all the
ordinary staircases and doors and windows into magical things." It
was the awakening of the sense of wonder and joy in the ordinary
things always to be his. Still more important was the realization
represented by the goblins below stairs, that "When the evil things
besieging us do appear, they do not appear outside but inside." In
life as in this story there is

   . . . a house that is our home, that is rightly loved as our home,
   but of which we hardly know the best or the worst, and must always
   wait for the one and watch against the other. . . . Since I first
   read that story some five alternative philosophies of the universe
   have come to our colleges out of Germany, blowing through the world
   like the east wind. But for me that castle is still standing in the
   mountains, its light is not put out.*

[* Introduction to _George Macdonald and His Wife_.]

All this to Gilbert made the story the "most real, the most
realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life" of
any story he ever read--then or later! Another recurrent image in
books by the same author is that of a great white horse. And Gilbert
says, "To this day I can never see a big white horse in the street
without a sudden sense of indescribable things."*

[* Ibid.]

Of his playmates, "one of my first memories," he writes in the
_Autobiography_, "is playing in the garden under the care of a girl
with ropes of golden hair; to whom my mother afterwards called out
from the house, 'You are an angel'; which I was disposed to accept
without metaphor. She is now living in Vancouver as Mrs. Robert Kidd."

Mrs. Kidd, then Annie Firmin, was the daughter of a girlhood friend
of Mrs. Chesterton's. She called her "Aunt Marie." She and her
sister, Gilbert says in the _Autobiography_, "had more to do with
enlivening my early years than most." She has a vivid memory of
Sheffield Terrace where all three Chesterton children were born and
where the little sister, Beatrice, whom they called Birdie, died.
Gilbert, in those days, was called Diddie, his father then and later
was "Mr. Ed" to the family and intimate friends. Soon after Birdie's
death they moved to Warwick Gardens. Mrs. Kidd writes:

   . . . the little boys were never allowed to see a funeral. If one
   passed down Warwick Gardens, they were hustled from the nursery
   window at once. Possibly this was because Gilbert had such a fear of
   sickness or accident. If Cecil gave the slightest sign of choking at
   dinner, Gilbert would throw down his spoon or fork and rush from the
   room. I have seen him do it so many times. Cecil was fond of animals.
   Gilbert wasn't. Cecil had a cat that he named Faustine, because he
   wanted her to be abandoned and wicked--but Faustine turned out to be
   a gentleman!

Gilbert's story-telling and verse-making began very early, but not, I
think, in great abundance; his drawing even earlier, and of this
there is a great deal. There is nothing very striking in the written
fragments that remain, but his drawings even at the age of five are
full of vigour. The faces and figures are always rudimentary human
beings, sometimes a good deal more, and they are taken through
lengthy adventures drawn on the backs of bits of wall paper, of
insurance forms, in little books sewn together, or sometimes on long
strips glued end to end by his father. These drawings can often be
dated exactly, for Edward Chesterton, who later kept collections of
press-cuttings and photographs of his son, had already begun to
collect his drawings, writing the date on the back of each. With the
earlier ones he may, one sometimes suspects, have helped a little,
but it soon becomes easy to distinguish between the two styles.

Edward Chesterton was the most perfect father that could have been
imagined to help in the opening of windows on every side. "My father
might have reminded people of Mr. Pickwick, except that he was always
bearded and never bald; he wore spectacles and had all the
Pickwickian evenness of temper and pleasure in the humours of
travel." He had, as his son further notes in the _Autobiography_, a
power of invention which "created for children the permanent
anticipation of what is profoundly called a 'surprise.'" The child
of today chooses his Christmas present in advance and decides between
Peter Pan and the Pantomime (when he does not get both). The
Chesterton children saw their first glimpses of fantasy through the
framework of a toy-theatre of which their father was carpenter,
scene-painter and scene-shifter, author and creator of actors and
actresses a few inches high. Gilbert's earliest recollection is of
one of these figures in a golden crown carrying a golden key, and his
father was all through his childhood a man with a golden key who
admitted him into a world of wonders.

I think Gilbert's father meant more to him than his mother, fond as
he was of her. Most of their friends seem to feel that Cecil was her
favorite son. "Neither was ever demonstrative," Annie Firmin says,
"I never saw either of them kiss his mother." But in some ways the
mother spoilt both boys. They had not the training that a strict
mother or an efficient nurse usually accomplishes with the most
refractory. Gilbert was never refractory, merely absent-minded; but
it is doubtful whether he was sent upstairs to wash his hands or
brush his hair, except in preparation for a visit or ceremonial
occasion ("not even then!" interpolates Annie). And it is perfectly
certain that he ought to have been so sent several times a day. No
one minded if he was late for meals; his father, too, was frequently
late and Frances during her engagement often saw his mother put the
dishes down in the fireplace to keep hot, and wait patiently--in
spite of Gilbert's description of her as "more swift, relentless and
generally radical in her instincts" than his father. Annie Firmin's
earlier memories fit this description better. Much as she loved her
"aunt," she writes:

   Aunt Marie was a bit of a tyrant in her own family! I have been
   many times at dinner, when there might be a joint, say, and a
   chicken--and she would say positively to Mr. Ed, "Which will you
   have, Edward?" Edward: "I think I'd like a bit of chicken!" Aunt M.
   fiercely: "No, you won't, you'll have mutton!" That happened so
   often. Sometimes Alice Grosjean, the youngest of Aunt M.'s family,
   familiarly known as "Sloper," was there. When asked her preference
   she would say, diffidently, "I think I'll take a little mutton!"
   "Don't be a fool, Alice, you know you like chicken,"--and chicken
   she got.

Visitors to the house in later years dwell on Mrs. Chesterton's
immense spirit of hospitality, the gargantuan meals, the eager desire
that guests should eat enormously, and the wittiness of her
conversation. Schoolboy contemporaries of Gilbert say that although
immensely kind, she alarmed them by a rather forbidding
appearance--"her clothes thrown on anyhow, and blackened and
protruding teeth which gave her a witchlike appearance. . . . The
house too was dusty and untidy." She called them always by their
surnames, both when they were little boys and after they grew up,
"Oldershaw, Bentley, Solomon."

"Not only," says Miss May Chesterton, "did Aunt Marie address
Gilbert's friends by their surnames, but frequently added darling to
them. I have heard her address Bentley when a young man thus;
'Bentley darling, come and sit over here,' to which invitation he
turned a completely deaf ear as he was perfectly content to remain
where he was!"

"Indiscriminately, she also addressed her maids waiting at table with
the same endearment."

A letter written when Gilbert was only six would seem to show that
Mrs. Chesterton had not yet become so reckless about her appearance,
and was still open to the appeal of millinery. ("She always was,"
says Annie.) The letter is from John Barker of High Street,
Kensington, and is headed in handwriting, "Drapery and Millinery
Establishment, Kensington High Street, September 21, 1880."


   We are in receipt of instructions from Mr. Edward Chesterton to
   wait upon you for the purpose of offering for your selection a Bonnet
   of the latest Parisian taste, of which we have a large assortment
   ready for your choice; or can, if preferred, make you one to order.

   Our assistant will wait upon you at any time you may appoint,
   unless you would prefer to pay a visit to our Millinery department

   Mr. Chesterton informs us that as soon as you have made your
   selection he will hand us a cheque for the amount.

   We are given to understand that Mr. Chesterton proposes this
   transaction as a remembrance of the anniversary of what, he instructs
   us to say, he regards as a happy and auspicious event. We have
   accordingly entered it in our books in that aspect.

   In conveying, as we are desired to do, Mr. Chesterton's best wishes
   for your health and happiness for many future anniversaries, may we
   very respectfully join to them our own, and add that during many
   years to come we trust to be permitted to supply you with goods of
   the best description for cash, on the principle of the lowest prices
   consistent with excellence of quality and workmanship.

   We have the honour to be Madam Your most obedient Servants


The order entered in their books "under that aspect," the readiness
to provide millinery "for cash," convinces you (as G.K. himself says
of another story) that Dick Swiveller really did say, "When he who
adores thee has left but the name--in case of letters and parcels."
Dickens _must_ have dictated the letter to John Barker. After all, he
was only dead ten years.

"Aunt Marie used to say," adds Annie Firmin, "that Mr. Ed married her
for her beautiful hair, it was auburn, and very long and wavy. He
used to sit behind her in Church. She liked pretty clothes, but
lacked the vanity to buy them for herself. I have a little blue
hanging watch that he bought her one day--she always appreciated
little attentions."

The playmates of Gilbert's childhood are not described in the
_Autobiography_ except for Annie's "long ropes of golden hair." But
in one of the innumerable fragments written in his early twenties, he
describes a family of girls who had played with him when they were
very young together. It is headed, "Chapter I. A Contrast and a
Climax," and several other odd bits of verse and narrative introduce
the Vivian family as early and constant playmates.

   One of the best ways of feeling a genuine friendly enthusiasm for
   persons of the other sex, without gliding into anything with a
   shorter name, is to know a whole family of them. The most
   intellectual idolatry at one shrine is apt to lose its purely
   intellectual character, but a genial polytheism is always bracing and
   platonic. Besides, the Vivians lived in the same street or rather
   "gardens" as ourselves, and were amusing as bringing one within sight
   of what an old friend of mine, named Bentley, called with more than
   his usual gloom and severity of expression, "the remote outpost of
   Kensington Society."

   For these reasons, and a great many much better ones, I was very
   much elated to have the family, or at least the three eldest girls
   who represent it to the neighbourhood, standing once more on the
   well-rubbed lawn of our old garden, where some of my earliest
   recollections were of subjecting them to treatment such as I
   considered appropriate to my own well-established character of
   robber, tying them to trees to the prejudice of their white frocks,
   and otherwise misbehaving myself in the funny old days, before I went
   to school and became a son of gentlemen only. I have never been able,
   in fact I have never tried, to tell which of the three I really liked
   best. And if the severer usefulness and domesticity of the eldest
   girl, with her quiet art-colours, and broad, brave forehead as pale
   as the white roses that clouded the garden, if these maturer
   qualities in Nina demanded my respect more than the levity of the
   others, I fear they did not prevent me feeling an almost equal tide
   of affection towards the sleepy acumen and ingrained sense of humour
   of Ida, the second girl and book-reader for the family: or Violet, a
   veritably delightful child, with a temper as formless and erratic as
   her tempest of red hair.

   "What old memories this garden calls up," said Nina, who like many
   essentially simple and direct people, had a strong dash of sentiment
   and a strong penchant for being her own emotional pint-stoup on the
   traditional subjects and occasions. "I remember so well coming here
   in a new pink frock when I was a little girl. It wasn't so new when
   I went away."

   "I certainly must have been a brute," I replied. "But I have
   endeavoured to make a lifetime atone for my early conduct." And
   I fell to thinking how even Nina, miracle of diligence and
   self-effacement, remembered a new pink frock across the abyss of
   the years. . . . Walking with my old friends round the garden, I
   found in every earth-plot and tree-root the arenas of an active
   and adventurous life in early boyhood. . . .*

[* Unpublished fragment.]

Edward Chesterton was a Liberal politically and what has been called
a Liberal Christian religiously. When the family went to
church--which happened very seldom--it was to listen to the sermons
of Stopford Brooke. Some twenty years later, Cecil was to remark with
amusement that he had as a small boy heard every part of the teaching
now (1908) being set out by R. J. Campbell under the title, "The New
Religion." The Chesterton Liberalism entered into the view of history
given to their children, and it produced from Gilbert the only poem
of his childhood worth quoting. I cannot date it, but the very
immature handwriting and curious spelling mark it as early.

Probably most children have read, or at any rate up to my own
generation, had read, Aytoun's _Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers_, and
played at being Cavaliers as a result. But Gilbert could not play at
being a Cavalier. He had learned from his father to be a Roundhead,
as had every good Liberal of that day. What was to be done about it?
He took the _Lays_ and rewrote them in an excellent imitation of
Aytoun, but on the opposite side. In view of his own later
developments such a line as "Drive the trembling Papists backwards"
has an ironic humour. But one wonders what Aytoun himself would have
made of a small boy who took his rhythm and sometimes his very words,
turned his hero into a traitor ("false Montrose") and his traitor
Argyll into a hero! I have left the spelling untouched.

   Sing of the Great Lord Archibald
   Sing of his glorious name
   Sing of his covenenting faith
   And his evelasting fame.

   One day he summoned all his men
   To meet on Cruerchin's brow
   Three thousand covenenting chiefs
   Who no master would allow

   Three thousand Knights
   With clamores drawn
   And targets tough and strong
   Knights who for the right
   Would ever fight
   And never bear the wrong.

   And he creid (his hand uplifted)
   "Soldiers of Scotland hear my vow
   Ere the morning shall have risen
   I will lay the trators low
   Or as ye march from the battle
   Marching back in battle file
   Ye shall there among the corpses
   Find the body of Argyll.

   Soldiers Soldiers onward onward
   Onward soldiers follow me
   Come, remember ye the crimes
   Of the fiend of fell Dundee
   Onward let us draw our clamores
   Let us draw them on our foes
   Now then I am threatened with
   The fate of false Montrose.

   Drive the trembling Papists backwards
   Drive away the Tory's hord
   Let them tell thier hous of villians
   They have felt the Campbell's sword."

   And the next morn he arose
   And he girded on his sword
   They asked him many questions
   But he answered not a word.
   And he summoned all his men
   And he led them to the field
   And We creid unto our master
   That we'd die and never yield.
   That same morn we drove right backwards
   All the servants of the Pope
   And Our Lord Archibald we saved
   From a halter and a rope
   Far and fast fled all the trators
   Far and fast fled all the Graemes
   Fled that cursed tribe who lately
   Stained there honour and thier names.


School Days

CURIOUSLY ENOUGH Gilbert does not in the _Autobiography_ speak of any
school except St. Paul's. He went however first to Colet Court,
usually called at that time Bewsher's, from the name of the
Headmaster. Though it is not technically the preparatory school for
St. Paul's, large numbers of Paulines do pass through it. It stands
opposite St. Paul's in the Hammersmith Road and must have been felt
by Gilbert as one thing with his main school experience, for he
nowhere differentiates between the two.

St. Paul's School is an old city foundation which has had among its
scholars Milton and Marlborough, Pepys and Sir Philip Francis and a
host of other distinguished men. The editor of a correspondence
column wrote a good many years later in answer to an enquirer: "Yes,
Milton and G. K. Chesterton were both educated at St. Paul's school.
We fancy however that Milton had left before Chesterton entered the
school." In an early life of Sir Thomas More we learn of the keen
rivalry existing in his day between his own school of St. Anthony and
St. Paul's, of scholastic "disputations" between the two, put an end
to by Dean Colet because they led to brawling among the boys, when
the Paulines would call those of St. Anthony "pigs" and the pigs
would call the Paulines "pigeons"--from the pigeons of St. Paul's
Cathedral. Now, however, St. Anthony's is no more, and St. Paul's
School has long moved to the suburbs and lies about seven minutes'
walk along the Hammersmith Road from Warwick Gardens. Gilbert
Chesterton was twelve when he entered St. Paul's (in January 1887)
and he was placed in the second Form.

His early days at school were very solitary, his chief occupation
being to draw all over his books. He drew caricatures of his masters,
he drew scenes from Shakespeare, he drew prominent politicians. He
did not at first make many friends. In the _Autobiography_ he makes a
sharp distinction between being a child and being a boy, but it is a
distinction that could only be drawn by a man. And most men, I fancy,
would find it a little difficult to say at what moment the
transformation occurred. G.K. seems to put it at the beginning of
school life, but the fact that St. Paul's was a day-school meant that
the transition from home to school, usual in English public-school
education,* was never in his case completely made. No doubt he is
right in speaking in the _Autobiography_ of "the sort of prickly
protection like hair" that "grows over what was once the child," of
the fact that schoolboys in his time "could be blasted with the
horrible revelation of having a sister, or even a Christian name."
Nevertheless, he went home every evening to a father and mother and
small brother; he went to his friends' houses and knew their sisters;
school and home life met Daily instead of being sharply divided into
terms and holidays.

[* The terminology for English schools came into being largely before
the State concerned itself with education. A Private School is one
run by an individual or a group for private profit. A Public School
is not run for private profit; any profits there may be are put back
into the school. Mostly they are run by a Board of Governors and very
many of them hold the succession to the old monastic schools of
England (e.g., Charterhouse, Westminster, St. Paul's). They are
usually, though not necessarily, boarding schools, and the fees are
usually high. Elementary schools called Board Schools were paid for
out of local rates and run by elected School Boards. They were later
replaced by schools run by the County Councils.]

This fact was of immense significance in Gilbert's development. Years
later he noted as the chief defect of Oxford that it consisted almost
entirely of people educated at boarding-schools. For good, for evil,
or for both, a boy at a day-school is educated chiefly at home.

   In the atmosphere of St. Paul's is found little echo of the dogma
   of the Head Master of Christ's Hospital. "Boy! The school is your
   father! Boy! The school is your mother." Nor, as far as we know has
   any Pauline been known to desire the substitution of the august
   abstraction for the guardianship of his own people. Friendships
   formed in this school have a continual reference to home life, nor
   can a boy possibly have a friend long without making the acquaintance
   and feeling the influence of his parents and his surroundings. . . .
   The boys' own amusements and institutions, the school sports, the
   school clubs, the school magazine, are patronised by the masters, but
   they are originated and managed by the boys. The play-hours of the
   boys are left to their several pleasures, whether physical or
   intellectual, nor have any foolish observations about the battle of
   Waterloo being won on the cricket-field, or such rather unmeaning
   oracles, yet succeeded in converting the boys' amusements into a
   compulsory gymnastic lesson. The boys are, within reasonable limits,

[* MS. _History of J.D.C_. written about 1894.]

Gilbert calls the chapter on his school days, "How to be a Dunce,"
and although in mature life he was "on the side of his masters" and
grateful to them "that my persistent efforts not to learn Latin were
frustrated; and that I was not entirely successful even in escaping
the contamination of the language of Aristotle and Demosthenes," he
still contrasts childhood as a time when one "wants to know nearly
everything" with "the period of what is commonly called education;
that is, the period during which I was being instructed by somebody
I did not know about something I did not want to know."

The boy who sat next to him in class, Lawrence Solomon (later Senior
Tutor of University College, London), remembered him as sleepy and
indifferent in manner but able to master anything when he cared to
take the trouble--as he very seldom did. He was in a class with boys
almost all his juniors. Lucian Oldershaw, who later became his
brother-in-law, says of Gilbert's own description of his school life
that it was as near a pose as Gilbert ever managed to get. He wanted
desperately to be the ordinary schoolboy, but he never managed to
fulfil this ambition. Tall, untidy, incredibly clumsy and
absent-minded, he was marked out from his fellows both physically and
intellectually. When in the later part of his school life some sort
of physical exercises were made compulsory, the boys used to form
parties to watch his strange efforts on the trapeze or parallel bars.
In these early days, he was (he says of himself) "somewhat solitary,"
but not unhappy, and perfectly good-humoured about the tricks which
were inevitably played on a boy who always appeared to be half asleep.

"He sat at the back of the room," says Mr. Fordham, "and never
distinguished himself. We thought him the most curious thing that
ever was." His schoolfellows noted how he would stride along,
"apparently muttering poetry, breaking into inane laughter." The kind
of thing he was muttering we learn from a sentence in the
_Autobiography:_ "I was one day wandering about the streets in that
part of North Kensington, telling myself stories of feudal sallies
and sieges, in the manner of Walter Scott, and vaguely trying to
apply them to the wilderness of bricks and mortar around me."

"I can see him now," wrote Mr. Fordham, "very tall and lanky,
striding untidily along Kensington High Street, smiling and sometimes
scowling as he talked to himself, apparently oblivious of everything
he passed; but in reality a far closer observer than most, and one
who not only observed but remembered what he had seen." It was only
of himself that he was really oblivious.

Mr. Oldershaw remembers that on one occasion on a very cold day they
filled his pockets with snow in the playground. When class
reassembled, the snow began to melt and pools to appear on the floor.
A small boy raised his hand: "Please Sir, I think the laboratory sink
must be leaking again. The water is coming through and falling all
over Chesterton."

The laboratory sink was an old offender and the master must have been
short-sighted. "Chesterton," he said, "go up to Mr. ---- and ask him
with my compliments to see that the trouble with the sink is put
right immediately." Gilbert, with water still streaming from both
pockets, obediently went upstairs, gave the message and returned
without discovering what had happened.

The boys who played these jokes on him had at the same time an
extraordinary respect, both for his intellectual acquirements and for
his moral character. One boy, who rather prided himself in private
life on being a man about town, stopped him one day in the passage
and said solemnly, "Chesterton, I am an abandoned profligate." G.K.
replied, "I'm sorry to hear it." "We watched our talk," one of them
said to me, "when he was with us." His home and upbringing were felt
by some of his schoolfellows to have definitely a Puritan tinge about
them, although on the other hand the more Conservative elements
regarded them as politically dangerous. Mr. Oldershaw relates that
his own father, who was a Conservative in politics and had also
joined the Catholic Church, seriously warned him against the
Agnosticism and Republicanism of the Chesterton household. But even
at this age his schoolfellows recognised that he had begun the great
quest of his life. "We felt," said Oldershaw, "that he was looking
for God."

I suppose it was in part the keenness of the inner vision that
produced the effect of external sleepiness and made it possible to
pack Gilbert's pockets with snow; but it was also the fact that he
was observing very keenly the kind of thing that other people do not
bother to observe. I remember my mother telling me, when I first came
out, that she had almost ceased trying to draw people's characters
and imaginatively construct their home lives, because for the first
time in her life she was trying to notice how they were dressed. She
was not noticeably successful. Gilbert Chesterton never even tried to
see what everyone else saw. All the time he was seeing qualities in
his friends, ideas in literature and possibilities in life. And all
this world of imagination had, on his own theory, to be carefully
concealed from his masters. In the _Autobiography_ he describes
himself walking to school fervently reciting verses which he
afterwards repeated in class with a determined lack of expression and
woodenness of voice; but when he assumes that this is how all boys
behave, he surely attributes his own literary enthusiasms far too
widely. One would rather gather that he supposed the whole of St.
Paul's School to be in the conspiracy to conceal their love of
literature from their masters! Such of his own schoolboy papers as
can be found show an imagination rare enough at any age, and an
enthusiasm not commonly to be found among schoolboys. A very early
one, to judge by the handwriting, is on the advantages for an
historical character of having long hair, illustrated by the history
of Mary Queen of Scots and Charles the First. In the contrast he
draws between Mary and Elizabeth, appear qualities of historical
imagination that might well belong to a mature and experienced writer.

   . . . As in the cause of the fleeting heartless Helen, the Trojan
   War is stirred up, and great Ajax perishes, and the gentle Patroclus
   is slain, and mighty Hector falls, and godlike Achilles is laid low,
   and the dun plains of Hades are thickened with the shades of Kings,
   so round this lovely giddy French princess, fall one by one the
   haughty Dauphin, the princely Darnley, the accomplished Rizzio, the
   terrible Bothwell, and when she dies, she dies as a martyr before the
   weeping eyes of thousands, and is given a popular pity and regret
   denied to her rival, with all her faults of violence and vanity, a
   greater and a purer woman.

   It must indeed have been a terrible scene, the execution of that
   unhappy Queen, and it is a scene that has been described by too
   many and too able writers for me to venture on a picture of it. But
   the continually lamented death of Mary of Scotland seems to me
   happy compared with the end of her greater and sterner rival. As I
   think on the two, the vision of the black scaffold, the grim headsman,
   the serene captive, and the weeping populace fades from me and is
   replaced by a sadder vision: the vision of the dimly-lighted
   state-bedroom of Whitehall. Elizabeth, haggard and wild-eyed has
   flung herself prone upon the floor and refuses to take meat or drink,
   but lies there, surrounded by ceremonious courtiers, but seeing with
   that terrible insight that was her curse, that she was alone, that
   their homage was a mockery, that they were waiting eagerly for her
   death to crown their intrigues with her successor, that there was not
   in the whole world a single being who cared for her: seeing all this,
   and bearing it with the iron fortitude of her race, but underneath
   that invincible silence the deep woman's nature crying out with a
   bitter cry that she is loved no longer: thus gnawed by the fangs of a
   dead vanity, haunted by the pale ghost of Essex, and helpless and
   bitter of heart, the greatest of Englishwomen passed silently away.
   Of a truth, there are prisons more gloomy than Fotheringay and deaths
   more cruel than the axe. Is there no pity due to those who undergo

It is surprising to read the series of form reports written on a boy
who at fifteen or sixteen could do work of this quality. Here are the
half-yearly reports made by his Form Masters from his first year in
the school at the age of thirteen to the time he left at the age of

_December 1887_. Too much for me: means well by me, I believe, but
has an inconceivable knack of forgetting at the shortest notice, is
consequently always in trouble, though some of his work is well done,
when he does remember to do it. He ought to be in a studio not at
school. Never troublesome, but for his lack of memory and absence of

_July 1888_. Wildly inaccurate about everything; never thinks for two
consecutive moments to judge by his work: plenty of ability, perhaps
in other directions than classics.

_December 1888_. Fair. Improving in neatness. Has a very fair stock
of general knowledge.

_July 1889_. A great blunderer with much intelligence.

_December 1889_. Means well. Would do better to give his time to
"Modern" subjects.

_July 1890_. Can get up any work, but originates nothing.

_December 1890_. Takes an interest in his English work, but otherwise
has not done well.

_July 1891_. He has a decided literary aptitude, but does not trouble
himself enough about school work.

_December 1891. Report missing_.

_July 1892_. Not on the same plane with the rest: composition quite
futile, but will translate well and appreciate what he reads. Not a
quick brain, but possessed by a slowly moving tortuous imagination.
Conduct always admirable.

What is much clearer from the mass of notebooks and odd sheets of
paper belonging to these years than from the _Autobiography_ is the
degree to which the two processes of resisting and absorbing
knowledge were going on simultaneously. At school he was, he says,
asleep but dreaming in his sleep; at home he was still learning
literature from his father, going to museums and picture galleries
for enjoyment, listening to political talk and engaging in arguments,
writing historical plays and acting them, and above all drawing.

To most of his early writing it is nearly impossible to affix a
date--with the exception of a "dramatic journal," kept by fits and
starts during the Christmas holidays when he was sixteen. G.K.
solemnly tells the reader of this diary to take warning by it, to
beware of prolixity, and it does in fact contain many more words to
many fewer ideas than any of his later writings. But it is useful in
giving the atmosphere of those years. Great part is in dialogue, the
author appearing throughout as Your Humble Servant, his young brother
Cecil as the Innocent Child.

The first scene is the rehearsal of a dramatic version of Scott's
_Woodstock_. This has been written by Your Humble Servant who is at
the same time engaged on a historic romance. At intervals in the
languid rehearsing, endless discussions take place: between Oldershaw
and G.K. on Thackeray, between Oldershaw, his father and G.K. on
Royal Supremacy in the Church of England. The boys, walking between
their two houses, "discuss Roman Catholicism, Supremacy, Papal v.
Protestant Persecutions. Your Humble Servant arrives at 11 Warwick
Gardens to meet Mr. Mawer Cowtan, Master Sidney Wells and Master
William Wells. Conversation about Frederick the Great, Voltaire and
Macaulay. Cheerful and enlivening discourse on Germs, Dr. Koch,
Consumption and Tuberculosis."

"Conservative" Oldershaw regards his friend as a "red hot raging
Republican" and it is interesting to note already faint
foreshadowings of Gilbert's future political views. His parents had
made him a Liberal but it seemed to him later, as he notes in the
_Autobiography_, that their generation was insufficiently alive to the
condition and sufferings of the poor. Open-eyed in so many matters,
they were not looking in that particular direction. And so it was
only very gradually that he himself began to look.

Your Humble Servant read Oldershaw Elizabeth Browning's "Cry of the
Children," which the former could scarcely trust himself to read, but
which the latter candidly avowed that he did not like. Part and
parcel of Oldershaw's optimism is a desire not to believe in pictures
of real misery, and a desire to find out compensating pleasures. I
think there was a good deal in what he said, but at the same time I
think that there is real misery, physical and mental, in the low and
criminal classes, and I don't believe in crying peace where there is
no peace.

Of his brother, Gilbert notes, "Innocent Child's fault is not a
servile reverence for his elder brother, whom he regards, I believe,
as a mild lunatic." And Oldershaw recalls his own detestation of
Cecil, who would insist on monopolising the conversation when
Gilbert's friends wanted to talk to him. "An ugly little boy creeping
about," Mr. Fordham calls him. "Cecil had no vanity," writes Mrs.
Kidd, "and thoroughly appreciated the fact that he was not beautiful;
when he was about 14 he said at dinner one day: 'I think I shall
marry X (a very plain cousin); between us we might produce the
missing link.' Aunt Marie was shocked!"

Many of the games arise from the skill in drawing of both Gilbert and
his father. A long history of two of the Masters drawn by Gilbert
shows them in the Salvation Army, as Christy Minstrels, as editors of
a new revolutionary paper, "La Guillotine," as besieged in their
office by a mob headed by Lord Salisbury, the Archbishop of
Canterbury and other Conservative leaders. Getting tired at last of
the adventures of these two mild scholars, Gilbert starts a series of
Shakespeare plays drawn in modern dress.

   Shylock as an aged Hebrew vendor of dilapidated vesture, with a
   tiara of hats, Antonio as an opulent and respectable city-merchant,
   Bassanio as a fashionable swell and Gratiano as his loud and
   disreputable "pal" with large checks and a billy-cock hat. Portia was
   attired as a barrister in wig and gown and Nerissa as a clerk with a
   green bag and a pen behind his ear. This being much appreciated, Your
   Humble Servant questions what portion of the Bard of Avon he shall
   next burlesque.

The little group seems certainly at this date to be living in a land
in which 'tis always afternoon. In one house or another tea-time
goes on until signs of dinner make their appearance. The boys only
move from one hospitable dining-room to another, or adjourn to their
own bedrooms where Gilbert piles book on book and reduces even neat
shelves to the same chaos that reigns in his own room.

The Christmas holidays to which the "dramatic journal" belongs came a
few months after the founding of the Junior Debating Club, which
became so central in Gilbert's life and which he treated with a
gravity, solemnity even, such as he never showed later for any cause,
a gravity untouched by humour. It was a group of about a dozen boys,
started with the idea that it should be a Shakespeare Club, but
immediately changed into a general discussion club. They met every
week at the home of one or other and after a hearty tea some member
read a paper which was then debated.

At the age of twenty, when he had left school two years, G.K. wrote a
solemn history of this institution in which the question of whether
it was right or wrong to insist on penny fines for rowdy behaviour is
canvassed with passionate feeling! One boy who was expelled asked to
be readmitted, saying, "I feel so lonely without it." Gilbert's
enthusiasm over this incident could be no greater had he been a
bishop welcoming the return of an apostate to the Christian fold. I
suppose it was partly because of his early solitary life at school,
partly because of the general trend of his thought, partly that at
this later date he was under the influence of Walt Whitman and cast
back upon his earlier years a sort of glow or haze of Whitman
idealism. Anyhow, the Junior Debating Club became to him a symbol of
the ideal friendship. They were Knights of the Round Table. They were
Jongleurs de Dieu. They were the Human Club through whom and in whom
he had made the grand discovery of Man. They were his youth
personified. The note is still struck in the letters of his
engagement period, and it was only forty years later, writing his
_Autobiography_, that he was able to picture with a certain humorous
detachment this group of boys who met to eat buns and criticise the

A year after their first meeting, the energy of Lucian Oldershaw
produced a magazine called _The Debater_. At first it was turned out
at home on a duplicator--the efficiency of the production being such
that the author of any given paper was able occasionally to recognise
a few words of his own contribution. Later it was printed and gives a
good record of the meetings and discussions. It shows the energy and
ardour of the debaters and also their serious view of themselves and
their efforts. At first they are described as Mr. C, Mr. F, etc.
Later the full name is given. Besides the weekly debates, they
started a Library, a Chess Club, a Naturalists' Society and a
Sketching Club, regular meetings of which are chronicled.

"The Chairman [G.K.C.] said a few words," runs a record, after some
months of existence, "stating his pride at the success of the Club,
and his belief in the good effect such a literary institution might
have as a protest against the lower and unworthy phases of school
life. His view having been vehemently corroborated, the meeting broke

In one fairly typical month papers were read on "Three Comedies of
Shakespeare," "Pope," and "Herodotus," and when no paper was produced
there was a discussion on Capital Punishment. In another, the
subjects were "The Brontës," "Macaulay as an Essayist," "Frank
Buckland" (the naturalist) and "Tennyson." A pretty wide range of
reading was called for from schoolboys in addition to their ordinary
work, even though on one occasion the Secretary sternly notes that
the reading of the paper occupied only three and one-half minutes.
But they were not daunted by difficulties or afraid of bold attempts.

Mr. Digby d'Avigdor on one occasion "delivered a paper entitled 'The
Nineteenth Century: A Retrospect.' He gave a slight resumé of the
principal events, with appropriate tribute to the deceased great of
this century."

Mr. Bertram, reading a paper on Milton, "dealt critically with his
various poems, noting the effective style of 'L'Allegro,' giving the
story of the writing of 'Comus' and cursorily analysing 'Paradise
Lost,' and 'Paradise Regained.'"

"After discussing the adaptability of _Hamlet_ to the stage, Mr.
Maurice Solomon"--who may have been quite fifteen--"passed on to
review the chief points in the character of the Prince of Denmark,
concluding with a slight review of the other characters which he did
not think Shakespeare had given much attention to."

In a discussion on the new humorists, we find the Secretary "taking
grievous umbrage at certain unwarrantable attacks which he considered
Mr. Andrew Lang had lately made on these choice spirits." This
discussion arose from a paper by the Chairman on the new school of
poetry "in which, in spite of its good points, he condemned the
absence of the sentiment of the moral, which he held to be the really
stirring and popular element in literature."

Evidently some of his friends tended towards a youthful cynicism for
in a paper on Barrie's _Window in Thrums_ Gilbert apologises to "such
of you as are much bitten with the George Moore state of mind."

The book which describes the rusty emotions and toilsome lives of the
Thrums weavers will always remain a book that has given me something,
and the fact that mine is merely the popular view and that what I
feel in it can be equally felt by the majority of fellow-creatures,
this fact, such is my hardened and abandoned state, only makes me
like the book more. I have long found myself in that hopeless
minority that is engaged in protecting the majority of mankind from
the attacks of all men. . . .

In this sentiment we recognise the G.K. that is to be, but not when
we find him seconding Mr. Bentley in the motion that "a scientific
education is much more useful than a classic."

"Mr. M," reading a paper on Herodotus, "gave a minute account of the
life of the historian, dwelling much upon the doubt and controversy
surrounding his birth and several incidents of his history"; while
"Mr. F. read a paper on Newspapers, tracing their growth from the
Acta Diurna of the later Roman Empire to the hordes of papers of the
present day."

Perhaps best of all these efforts was that of Mr. L.D., who "after
describing the governments of England, France, Russia, Germany and
the United States, proceeded to give his opinion on their various
merits, first saying that he personally was a republican."

Of the boys that appear in _The Debater_, Robert Vernède was killed
in the Great War; Laurence Solomon at his death in 1940 was Senior
Tutor of University College, London; his brother Maurice who became
one of the Directors of the General Electric Company is now an
invalid. I read a year or so ago an interesting _Times_ obituary of
Mr. Bertram, who was Director of Civil Aviation in the Air Ministry;
Mr. Salter became a Principal in the Treasury, having practised as a
solicitor up to the War; Mr. Fordham, a barrister, was one of the
Legal Advisers to the Ministry of Labour and has now retired.

The two outstanding "debaters" in G.K.'s life were Lucian Oldershaw
who became his brother-in-law and will often reappear in these pages,
and Edmund Clerihew Bentley, his friend of friends. Closely united as
was the whole group, Lucian Oldershaw once told me that they were
frantically jealous of one another: "We would have done anything to
get the first place with Gilbert."

"But you know," I said "who had it."

"Yes," he replied, "our jealousy of Bentley was overwhelming."

Mr. Bentley became a journalist and was for long on the editorial
staff of the _Daily Telegraph_, but he is best known for his
detective stories--especially _Trent's Last Case_--and as the
inventor of a special form of rhyme, known from his second name as
the Clerihew. He wrote the first of these while still at school, and
the best were later published in a volume called _Biography for
Beginners_, which G.K. illustrated. Everyone has his favourite. My
own is:

   Sir Christopher Wren
   Said "I am going to dine with some men,
   If anybody calls
   Say I'm designing St. Paul's."

Or possibly:

   The people of Spain think Cervantes
   Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes,
   An opinion resented most bitterly
   By the people of Italy.

Bentley was essentially a holiday as well as term-time companion and
when they were not together a large correspondence between the two
boys gives some idea of how and where Gilbert spent his summer
holidays. They are very much schoolboy letters and not worth quoting
at full length, but it is interesting to compare both style and
content with the later letters. All the letters begin "Dear Bentley."
The first use of his Christian name only occurs after both had left

   Austria House
   Pier Street
   Ventnor, Isle of Wight
   (undated, probably 1890)

   Although you dropt some hints about Paris when you were last
   in our humble abode, I presume that this letter, if addressed to your
   usual habitation, will reach you at some period. Ventnor, where, as
   you will perceive we are, is, I will not say built upon hills, but
   emptied into the cracks and clefts of rocks so that the geography of
   the town is curious and involved. . . .

   My brother is intent upon "The Three Midshipmen" or "The Three
   Admirals" or the three coal-scuttles or some other distinguished trio
   by that interminable ass Kingston. I looked at it today and wondered
   how I ever could have enjoyed his eternal slave schooners and African
   stations. I would not give a page of "Mansfield Park" or a verse of
   "In Memoriam" for all the endless fighting of blacks and boarding of
   pirates through which the three hypocritical vagabonds ever went. I
   am getting old. How old it will shortly be necessary for me to state
   precisely, for, as you doubtless know there is going to be a
   Census. . . .

   I have been trying to knock into shape a story, such as we spoke
   about the other day, about the first introduction of Tea, and I should
   be glad of your assistance and suggestions. I think I shall lay the
   scene in Holland where the merits of tea were first largely agitated,
   and fill the scene with the traditional Dutch figures such as I sketch.
   I find in Disraeli's "Curiosities of Literature" which I consulted
   before coming away that a French writer wrote an elaborate treatise
   to prove that tea merchants were always immoral members of society.
   It would be rather curious to apply the theory to the present
   day. . . .

   11, Warwick Gardens,

   I direct this letter to your ancient patrimonial estate unknowing
   whether it will reach you or where it will reach you if it does;
   whether you are shooting polar bears on the ice-fields of Spitzbergen
   or cooking missionaries among the cannibals of the South Pacific.
   But wherever you are I find some considerable relief in turning from
   the lofty correspondence of the secretary (with no disparagement
   of my much-esteemed friend, Oldershaw) to another friend
   (ifelow-mecallimso as Mr. Verdant Greene said) who can discourse on
   some other subjects besides the Society, and who will not devote the
   whole of his correspondence to the questions of that excellent and
   valuable body. The Society is a very good thing in its way (being
   the President I naturally think so) but like other good things, you
   may have too much of it, and I have had. . . .

   As I said before, I don't know where you are disporting yourself,
   beyond some hurried remark about Paris which you dropped in our
   hurried interview in one of the "brilliant flashes of silence" between
   those imbecile screams and yells and stamping, which even the
   natural enthusiasm at the prospect of being "broken up" cannot

   6, The Quadrant,
   North Berwick, Haddington,
   (? 1891.)

   You will probably guess that as far as personal taste and instincts
   are concerned, I share all your antipathy to the noisy Plebian
   excursionist. A visit to Ramsgate during the season and the vision of
   the crowded, howling sands has left in me feelings which all my
   Radicalism cannot allay. At the same time I think that the lower
   orders are seen unfavorably when enjoying themselves. In labour and
   trouble they are more dignified and less noisy. Your suggestion as to
   a series of soliloquies is very flattering and has taken hold of me
   to the extent of writing a similar ballad on Simon de Montfort. The
   order in which they come is rather incongruous, particularly if I
   include the list I have in mind for the future thus--Danton, William
   III, Simon de Montfort, Rousseau, David and Russell. . . . I rejoice
   to say that this is a sequestered spot into which Hi tiddly hi ti,
   etc. and all the ills in its train have not penetrated.

In these last two letters there are sentences of a kind not to be
found anywhere else in Chesterton. The disparagement of Lucian
Oldershaw's excessive enthusiasm for the Junior Debating Club, the
solemn reprobation of the "imbecile screams and yells and stamping"
of the last day at school before the summer holidays, the antipathy
expressed for the rowdy enjoyments of the lower orders--these things
are not in the least like either the Chesterton that was to be or the
Chesterton that then was. But they are very much like Bentley. He was
two years younger than Chesterton, but far older than his years and
seemed indeed to the other boys (and perhaps to himself) like an
elderly gentleman smiling a remote amused smile at the enthusiasms of
the young. I get the strongest feeling that at this stage Chesterton
not only admired him--as he was to do all his life--but wanted to be
like him, to say the kind of thing he thought Bentley would say. This
phase did not last, as we shall see; it had gone by the time
Chesterton was at the Slade School.

   6, The Quadrant,
   North Berwick
   Haddington, Scotland.
   (undated, probably 1891.)


   We have been here three days and my brother loudly murmurs that we
   have not yet seen any of "the sights." For my part I abominate
   sights, and all people who want to look at them. A great deal more
   instruction, to say nothing of pleasure is to be got out of the
   nearest haystack or hedgerow taken quietly, than in trotting over two
   or three counties to see "the view" or "the site" or the
   extraordinary cliff or the unusual tower or the unreasonable hill or
   any other monstrosity deforming the face of Nature. Anybody can make
   sights but nobody has yet succeeded in making scenery. (Excuse the
   unaccountable pencil drawing in the middle which was drawn
   unconsciously on the back of the unfinished letter.) . . .

   9, South Terrace,
   Littlehampton, Sussex.

   . . . I agree with you in your admiration for Paradise Lost, but
   consider it on the whole too light and childish a book for persons of
   our age. It is all very well, as small children to read pretty
   stories about Satan and Belial, when we have only just mastered our
   "Oedipus" and our Herbert Spencer, but when we grow older we get to
   like Captain Marryat and Mr. Kingston and when we are men we know
   that Cinderella is much better than any of those babyish books. As
   regards one question which you asked, I may remark that the children
   of Israel [presumably the Solomons] have not gone unto Horeb, neither
   unto Sittim, but unto the land that is called Shropshire they went,
   and abode therein. And they came unto a city, even unto the city that
   is called Shrewsbury, and there they builded themselves an home,
   where they might abide. And their home was in the land that was
   called Castle Street and their home was the 25th tabernacle in that
   land. And they abode with certain of their own kin until their season
   be over and gone. And lo! they spake unto me by letter, saying,
   "Heard ye aught of him that is called Bentley? Is he in the house of
   his fathers or has he come unto a strange land?" Here endeth the 2nd

   Hotel de Lille & d'Albion,
   223, Rue St. Honoré,
   (undated, probably 1892.)

   . . . They showed us over the treasures of the Cathedral, among
   which, as was explained by the guide, who spoke a little English, was
   a cross given by Louis XIV to _"Meess"_ Lavallière. I thought that
   concession to the British system of titles was indeed touching. I
   also thought, when reflecting what the present was, and where it was
   and then to whom it was given, that this showed pretty well what the
   religion of the Bourbon regime was and why it has become impossible
   since the Revolution.

   Grand Hotel du Chemin de Fer,
   Arromanches (Calvados)

   . . . Art is universal. This remark is not so irrelevant and Horace
   Greeley-like as it may appear. I have just had a demonstration of its
   truth on the coach coming down here. Two very nice little French boys
   of cropped hair and restless movements were just in front of us and
   my pater having discovered that the book they had with them was a
   prize at a Paris school, some slight conversation arose. Not thinking
   my French altogether equal to a prolonged interview, I took out a
   scrap of paper and began, with a fine carelessness to draw a picture
   of Napoleon I, hat, chin, attitude, all complete. This, of course,
   was gazed at rapturously by these two young inheritors of France's
   glory and it ended in my drawing them unlimited goblins to keep for
   the remainder of the interview.

In May 1891, the Chairman of the J.D.C. attained the maturity of

   The Secretary then rose and in a speech in which he extolled the
   merits of the Chairman as a chairman, and mentioned the benefit which
   the Junior Debating Club received on the day of which this was the
   anniversary, viz., the natal day of Mr. Chesterton, proposed that a
   vote wishing him many happy returns of the day and a long continuance
   in the Chair of the Club should be passed. This was carried with
   acclamations. The Chairman replied after restoring Order. . . .

Naturally this question of order among a crowd of boys loomed large.
At the beginning a number of rules were passed giving great powers to
the Chairman, "which that gentleman," he says of himself, "lenient by
temperament and republican by principles, certainly would never have
put in force. . . . It was seldom enough," he continues:

   that a boy of fifteen* found himself in the position of the
   Chairman, an attitude of command and responsibility over a body of
   his friends and equals, and it was not to be expected that they would
   easily take to the state of things. Nor was the Chairman himself,
   like the Secretary, protected and armed by any personal aptitude for
   practical proceedings. But solely by the certain degree of respect
   entertained for his character and acquirements. This respect, sincere
   and even excessive as it frequently was, contrasted somewhat
   humorously with the common inattention to questions of order, nor
   could anything be more noisy than the loyalty of Fordham and Langdon
   Davies, with the exception of their interruptions. It may then fairly
   be said that the troubles and discussions of the first months of the
   Club's existence centred practically round the question of order, the
   first of the great difficulties of this most difficult enterprise.
   How boys who could scarcely be got to behave quietly under the
   strictest schoolmasters could ever be brought to obey the rebuke of
   their equal and schoolfellow: how a heterogeneous pack of average
   schoolboys could organise themselves into a self-governing republic,
   these were problems of real and stupendous difficulty. The fines of a
   penny and of twopence, which were instituted at the first meeting,
   were found hopelessly incompetent to cope with the bursts of
   oblivious hilarity. Fordham in particular, whose constant breaches of
   order threatened to exhaust even the extensive treasury of that
   spoilt and opulent young gentleman, soon left calculation far behind,
   nor can the story be better or more brightly told than by himself.
   "Mr. F.," he wrote, "at one time, after considerable calculation
   found that he was in debt to the extent of some 10 or 11 shillings;
   but as he felt that by refusing to pay the sum he would be striking a
   blow for the liberty of the subject, he manfully held out against
   what he considered an unjust punishment for such diminutive
   frivolities as he had indulged in." . . . At times incidents of a
   disturbing and playful nature have roused the wrath of the Chairman
   and Secretary to a pitch awful to behold. At one time Mr. H. (a
   member who soon resigned) spent a considerable part of a meeting
   under the table, till he found himself used as a public footstool and
   a doormat combined. At another as Mr. Bentley was departing from the
   scene of chaos a penny bun of the sticky order caressingly stung his
   honoured cheek, sped upon its errand of mercy by the unerring aim of
   Mr. F.**

[* He was, in fact, sixteen when the J.D.C. began.]

[** MS. _History of the J.D.C_.]

Mr. Fordham well remembers how G.K. one day took him
aside at the Oldershaws' house and told him that he really must
be less exuberant. This historic occasion was always alluded
to later as "the day on which the Chairman spoke seriously to
Mr. F."

After various resignations order was restored, and a little later two
of the chief recalcitrants asked to be received back into the Club.
"I feel so lonely without it," one of them had remarked; and G.K.
comments, "This has always appeared to the present writer one of the
most important speeches in the history of the Club. . . . The Junior
Debating Club had come through its moments of difficulty and was a
fact and an establishment."

Nor was the circulation of _The Debater_ long confined to members of
the Club and their own circle of friends and relatives. Some of the
boys had no doubt a regular allowance, but probably a small one.
Gilbert himself says in his diary that he had no income "except
errant sixpences." And printers' bills had to be paid. Moreover in
the first number the editor Lucian Oldershaw confessed frankly that
one reason for the paper's existence was "that the Society may not
degenerate into the position of a mutual admiration Society by
totally lacking the admiration of outsiders." The staff were able
immediately to note, "Any apprehensions we may have felt on the
morning of the publication of _The Debater_ were speedily dispelled,
when by nightfall we had disposed of all our copies." Of a later
issue the energetic editor sold sixty-five copies in the course of
the summer holidays. Masters, too, began to read it and at last a
copy was hid on the table of the High Master, Mr. Walker. Cecil
Chesterton describes the High Master as a gigantic man with a booming
voice. Some Paulines believed he had given Gilbert the first
inspiration for the personality of "Sunday" in _The Man Who Was
Thursday_. Another contemporary says that he was reputed to take no
interest in anything except examination successes, and that the boys
were amazed at the effect on him of reading _The Debater_. Reading in
the light of his future, one sees qualities in Gilbert's work not to
be found in that of the other contributors, but it is worth noting
that the J.D.C. members were in fact a quite unusually able group.
Almost every one of them took brilliant scholarships to Oxford or
Cambridge; the High Master had never boasted of so many scholarships
from one set of boys. And in reading _The Debater_ (an enjoyment I
wish others could share) one has to bear in mind the relative ages of
the contributors. It is, I think, striking that all these boys should
have recognised Gilbert's quality and accepted his leadership, for
they were all a year or so younger than he was and yet were in the
same form. They knew that this was only because G.K. would not bother
to do his school work; still, I think that at that age they showed
insight by knowing it.

Gilbert's work is to be found in every number of _The
Debater_--usually verse as well as prose. Both Fordham and Oldershaw
remember most vividly the effect of reading a fanciful essay on
Dragons in the first number. "The Dragon," it began, "is the most
cosmopolitan of impossibilities." And the boys, rolling the words on
their tongues, murmured to one another, "This is literature."

Except for a very occasional flash the one element not yet visible in
these _Debater_ essays is humour. This is curious, because some of
his most brilliant fooling belongs to the same period. In a
collection made after his death, _The Coloured Lands_ is an
illustrated jeu d'esprit of 1891, _Half Hours in Hades:_ "an
elementary handbook of demonology" which is as amusing a thing as he
ever wrote. The drawings he made for it show specimens of the
evolution of various types of devil into various types of humans: the
devils themselves are carefully classified--the common or garden
serpent (Tentator Hortensis), the red devil (Diabolus Mephistopheles)
the blue devil (Caeruleus Lugubrius) etc. Mr. J. Milton's "specimen"
is discussed and various methods of pursuing observations in
supernatural history which "possesses an interest which will remain
after health, youth and even life have departed."

There is nothing of this kind in _The Debater_. Besides the
historical soliloquies mentioned in the letter to Bentley, there are
poems in which he is beginning to feel after his religious
philosophy. One of these in a very early number shows considerable
power for a boy not yet seventeen.


   Not that the widespread wings of wrong brood o'er a moaning earth,
   Not from the clinging curse of gold, the random lot of birth;
   Not from the misery of the weak, the madness of the strong,
   Goes upward from our lips the cry, "How long, oh Lord, how long?"
   Not only from the huts of toil, the dens of sin and shame,
   From lordly halls and peaceful homes the cry goes up the same;
   Deep in the heart of every man, where'er his life be spent,
   There is a noble weariness, a holy discontent.
   Where'er to mortal eyes has come, in silence dark and lone,
   Some glimmer of the far-off light the world has never known,
   Some ghostly echoes from a dream of earth's triumphal song,
   Then as the vision fades we cry, "How long, oh Lord, how long?"
   Long ages, from the dawn of time, men's toiling march has wound
   Towards the world they ever sought, the world they never found;
   Still far before their toiling path the glimmering promise lay,
   Still hovered round the struggling race, a dream by night and day.
   Mid darkening care and clinging sin they sought their unknown home,
   Yet ne'er the perfect glory came--Lord, will it ever come?
   The weeding of earth's garden broad from all its growths of wrong,
   When all man's soul shall be a prayer, and all his life a song.
   Aye, though through many a starless night we guard the flaming oil,
   Though we have watched a weary watch, and toiled a weary toil,
   Though in the midnight wilderness, we wander still forlorn,
   Yet bear we in our hearts the proof that God shall send the dawn.
   Deep in the tablets of our hearts he writes that yearning still,
   The longing that His hand hath wrought shall not his hand fulfil?
   Though death shall close upon us all before that hour we see,
   The goal of ages yet is there--the good time yet to be:
   Therefore, tonight, from varied lips, in every house and home,
   Goes up to God the common prayer, "Father, Thy Kingdom come."*

[* _The Debater_, Vol. I. March-April, 1891.]

Gilbert's prose work in _The Debater_ must have been little less
surprising to any master who had merely watched him slumbering at a
desk. His historical romance "The White Cockade" is immature and
unimportant. But essays on Spenser, Milton, Pope, Gray, Cowper,
Burns, Wordsworth, "Humour in Fiction," "Boys' Literature," Sir
Walter Scott, Browning, the English Dramatists, showed a range and a
quality of literary criticism alike surprising. Perhaps most
surprising, however, is the fact that all this does not seem to have
made clear to either masters or parents the true nature of Gilbert's
vocation. He suffered at this date from having too many talents. For
he still went on drawing and his drawings seemed to many the most
remarkable thing about him, and were certainly the thing he most
enjoyed doing.

Even now his school work had not brought him into the highest
form--called not the Sixth, as in most schools, but the Eighth: the
highest form he ever reached was 6B. But in the Summer term of 1892
he entered a competition for a prize poem, and won it. The subject
chosen was St. Francis Xavier. I give the poem in Appendix A. It is
not as notable as some other of his work at that time: what is
interesting is that in it this schoolboy expresses with some power a
view he was later to explode yet more powerfully. He might have
claimed for himself what he said of earlier writers--it is not true
that they did not see our modern difficulties: they saw through them.
Never before had this contest been won by any but an Eighth Form boy,
and almost immediately afterwards Gilbert was amazed to find a short
notice posted on the board: "G. K. Chesterton to rank with the
Eighth.--F. W. Walker, High Master."

The High Master at any rate had travelled far from the atmosphere of
the form reports when Mrs. Chesterton visited him in 1894 to ask his
advice about her son's future. For he said, "Six foot of genius.
Cherish him, Mrs. Chesterton, cherish him."


Art Schools and University College

WHEN ALL GILBERT'S friends were at Oxford or Cambridge, he used to
say how glad he was that his own choice had been a different one. He
never sighed for Oxford. He never regretted his rather curious
experiences at an Art School--two Art Schools really, although he
only talks of one in the _Autobiography_, for he was for a short time
at a School of Art in St. John's Wood (Calderon's, Lawrence Solomon
thought), whence he passed to the Slade School. He was there from
1892 to 1895 and during part of that time he attended lectures on
English Literature at University College.

The chapter on the experiences of the next two years is called in the
_Autobiography_, "How to be a Lunatic," and there is no doubt that
these years were crucial and at times crucifying in Gilbert's life.
During a happily prolonged youth (he was now eighteen and a half) he
had developed very slowly, but normally. Surrounded by pleasant
friendships and home influences he had never really become aware of
evil. Now it broke upon him suddenly--probably to a degree
exaggerated by his strong imagination and distorted by the fact that
he was undergoing physical changes usually belonging to an earlier

Towards the end of his school life Gilbert's voice had not yet
broken. His mother took him to a doctor to be overhauled and was told
that his brain was the largest and most sensitive the doctor had ever
seen. "A genius or an idiot" was his verdict on the probabilities.
Above all things she was told to avoid for him any sort of shock.
Physically, mentally, spiritually he was on a very large scale and
probably for that reason of a slow rate of development. The most
highly differentiated organisms are the slowest to mature, and
without question Gilbert did mature very late. He was now passing
through the stage described by Keats: "The imagination of a boy is
healthy and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is
a space of life between"--a period unhealthy or at least ill-focussed.

Intellectually Gilbert suffered at this time from an extreme
scepticism. As he expressed it he "felt as if everything might be a
dream" as if he had "projected the universe from within." The
agnostic doubts the existence of God. Gilbert at moments doubted the
existence of the agnostic.

Morally his temptations seem to have been in some strange psychic
region rather than merely physical. The whole period is best
summarised in a passage from the _Autobiography_, for looking back
after forty years Gilbert still saw it as deeply and darkly
significant: as both a mental and moral extreme of danger.

   There is something truly menacing in the thought of how quickly I
   could imagine the maddest, when I had never committed the mildest
   crime . . . there was a time when I had reached that condition of
   moral anarchy within, in which a man says, in the words of Wilde,
   that "Atys with the blood-stained knife were better than the thing I
   am." I have never indeed felt the faintest temptation to the
   particular madness of Wilde, but I could at this time imagine the
   worst and wildest disproportions and distortions of more normal
   passion; the point is that the whole mood was overpowered and
   oppressed with a sort of congestion of imagination. As Bunyan, in his
   morbid period, described himself as prompted to utter blasphemies, I
   had an overpowering impulse to record or draw horrible ideas and
   images; lunging deeper and deeper as in a blind spiritual suicide.*

[* Pp. 88-9.]

Two of his intimate friends, finding at this time a notebook full of
these horrible drawings, asked one another, "Is Chesterton going mad?"

He dabbled too in spiritualism until he realised that he had reached
the verge of forbidden and dangerous ground:

   I would not altogether rule out the suggestion of some that we were
   playing with fire; or even with hell-fire. In the words that were
   written for us there was nothing ostensibly degrading, but any amount
   that was deceiving. I saw quite enough of the thing to be able to
   testify with complete certainty, that something happens which is not
   in the ordinary sense natural, or produced by the normal and
   conscious human will. Whether it is produced by some subconscious but
   still human force, or by some powers, good, bad, or indifferent,
   which are external to humanity, I would not myself attempt to decide.
   The only thing I will say with complete confidence, about that mystic
   and invisible power, is that it tells lies. The lies may be larks or
   they may be lures to the imperilled soul or they may be a thousand
   other things; but whatever they are, they are not truths about the
   other world; or for that matter about this world.*

[*_Autobiography_, p. 77.]

He told Father O'Connor some years later* that "he had used the
planchette freely at one time, but had to give it up on account of
headaches ensuing . . . 'after the headaches came a horrid feeling as
if one were trying to get over a bad spree, with what I can best
describe as a bad smell in the mind.'"

[*_Father Brown on Chesterton,_ p. 74.]

Idling at his work he fell in with other idlers and has left a vivid
description in a _Daily News_ article called, "The Diabolist," of one
of his fellow students.

   . . . It was strange, perhaps, that I liked his dirty, drunken
   society; it was stranger still, perhaps, that he liked my society.
   For hours of the day he would talk with me about Milton or Gothic
   architecture; for hours of the night he would go where I have no wish
   to follow him, even in speculation. He was a man with a long,
   ironical face, and close red hair; he was by class a gentleman, and
   could walk like one, but preferred, for some reason, to walk like a
   groom carrying two pails. He looked like a sort of super-jockey; as
   if some archangel had gone on the Turf. And I shall never forget the
   half-hour in which he and I argued about real things for the first
   and last time.

   . . . He had a horrible fairness of the intellect that made me
   despair of his soul. A common, harmless atheist would have denied
   that religion produced humility or humility a simple joy; but he
   admitted both. He only said, "But shall I not find in evil a life of
   its own? Granted that for every woman I ruin one of those red sparks
   will go out; will not the expanding pleasure of ruin . . ."

   "Do you see that fire?" I asked. "If we had a real fighting
   democracy, some one would burn you in it; like the devil-worshipper
   that you are."

   "Perhaps," he said, in his tired, fair way. "Only what you call
   evil I call good."

   He went down the great steps alone, and I felt as if I wanted the
   steps swept and cleaned. I followed later, and as I went to find my
   hat in the low, dark passage where it hung, I suddenly heard his
   voice again, but the words were inaudible. I stopped, startled; but
   then I heard the voice of one of the vilest of his associates saying,
   "Nobody can possibly know." And then I heard those two or three words
   which I remember in every syllable and cannot forget. I heard the
   Diabolist say, "I tell you I have done everything else. If I do that
   I shan't know the difference between right and wrong." I rushed out
   without daring to pause; and as I passed the fire I did not know
   whether it was hell or the furious love of God.

   I have since heard that he died; it may be said, I think, that he
   committed suicide; though he did it with tools of pleasure, not with
   tools of pain. God help him, I know the road he went; but I have
   never known or even dared to think what was that place at which he
   stopped and refrained.*

[* Quoted in _G. K. Chesterton: A Criticism_. Alston Rivers Ltd. 1908,
pp. 20-22.]

Revulsion from the atmosphere of evil took Gilbert to no new thing
but to a strengthening of old ties and a mystic renewal of them. The
J.D.C. was idealised into a mystical city of friends:


   I know a friend, very strong and good. He is the best friend in the

   I know another friend, subtle and sensitive. He is certainly the best
   friend on earth.

   I know another friend: very quiet and shrewd, there is no friend so
   good as he.

   I know another friend, who is enigmatical and reluctant, he is the
   best of all.

   I know yet another: who is polished and eager, he is far better
   than the rest.

   I know another, who is young and very quick, he is the most beloved
   of all friends,

   I know a lot more and they are all like that.



   What are little boys made of?

   Bentley is made of hard wood with a knot in it, a complete set of
   Browning and a strong spring;

   Oldershaw of a box of Lucifer matches and a stylographic pen;

   Lawrence of a barrister's wig: files of Punch and salt,

   Maurice of watch-wheels, three riders and a clean collar.

   Vernède is made of moonlight and tobacco,

   Bertram is mostly a handsome black walking-stick.

   Waldo is a nice cabbage, with a vanishing odour of cigarettes,

   Salter is made of sand and fire and an university extension ticket.

   But the strongest element in all can not be expressed; I think it
   is a sort of star.*

[* From _The Notebook_.]

There are fragments of a Morality Play entitled "The Junior Debating
Club," of a modern novel in which everyone of the Debaters makes his
appearance, of a mediaeval story called "The Legend of Sir Edmund of
the Brotherhood of the Jongleurs de Dieu." Notes, fragments, letters,
all show an intense individual interest that covered the life of each
of his friends. If one of them is worried, he worries too; if one
rejoices, he rejoices exceedingly. They write to him about their
ideas and views, their relations with one another, their reactions in
the world of Oxford life, their love affairs. "I am in need of some
literary tonic or blood-letting," says Vernède, "which you alone can

"I only hope," writes Bertram, "you may be as much use in the world
in future as you have been in the past to your friends."

"Most of the absent Club," writes Salter separated from the others,
"lie together in my pocket at this moment." And Gilbert writes in
_The Notebook:_


   Tea is made; the red fogs shut round the house but the gas burns.
   I wish I had at this moment round the table
   A company of fine people.
   Two of them are at Oxford and one in Scotland and two at other
   But I wish they would all walk in now, for the tea is made.

Gilbert was devoted to them all. But as we have seen, Bentley's was
the supreme friendship of his youth. It was a friendship in foolery
as we are told by the dedication of _Greybeards at Play:_

   He was through boyhood's storm and shower
   My best my nearest friend,
   We wore one hat, smoked one cigar
   One standing at each end.

It was a deeply serious friendship as we are told in the dedication
of _The Man Who Was Thursday_. With Bentley alone he shared the

   Doubts that drove us through the night as we two talked amain,
   And day had broken on the streets ere it broke upon the brain.

Most young men write or at least begin novels of which they are
themselves the heroes. Gilbert wrote and illustrated a fairy story
about a boyish romance of Lucian Oldershaw's while two unfinished
novels have Bentley for hero. He is, too, in the mediaeval story, Sir
Edmund of the Brotherhood of the Jongleurs de Dieu. Gilbert sings,
like all young poets, of first love--but it is Bentley's not his own:
he was as much excited about a girl Bentley had fallen in love with
as if he had fallen in love with her himself. And where a London
street has a special significance one discovers it is because of a
memory of Bentley's. To Bentley then, with whom all was shared,
Gilbert wrote, when through friendship and the goodness of things he
had come out again into the daylight. The second thought that had
saved him had largely grown out of the first. The J.D.C. meant
friendship. Friendship meant the highest of all good things and all
good things called for gratitude. As he gave thanks he drew near to

   Dunedin Lodge
   Forth Street
   North Berwick.
   (undated, but probably Long Vac., 1894.)

   Your letter was most welcome: in which, however, it does not differ
   widely from most of your letters. I read somewhere in some fatuous
   Complete Letter-writer or something, that it is correct to imitate
   the order of subjects, etc. observed by your correspondent. In
   obedience to this rule of breeding I will hurriedly remark that my
   holiday has been nice enough in itself; we walk about; lie on the
   sand; go and swim in the sea when it generally rains; and the
   combination gets in our mouths and we say the name of the Professor
   in the "Water Babies." Inwardly speaking, I have had a funny time. A
   meaningless fit of depression, taking the form of certain absurd
   psychological worries came upon me, and instead of dismissing it and
   talking to people, I had it out and went very far into the abysses,
   indeed. The result was that I found that things when examined,
   necessarily _spelt_ such a mystically satisfactory state of things,
   that without getting back to earth, I saw lots that made me certain
   it is all right. The vision is fading into common day now, and I am
   glad. The frame of mind was the reverse of gloomy, but it would not
   do for long. It is embarrassing, talking with God face to face, as a
   man speaketh to his friend.

And in another letter:

   A cosmos one day being rebuked by a pessimist replied, "How can you
   who revile me consent to speak by my machinery? Permit me to reduce
   you to nothingness and then we will discuss the matter." Moral. You
   should not look a gift universe in the mouth.

Another powerful influence in the direction of mental health was the
discovery of Walt Whitman's poetry. "I shall never forget," Lucian
Oldershaw writes, "reading to him from the Canterbury Walt Whitman in
my bedroom at West Kensington. The séance lasted from two to three
hours, and we were intoxicated with the excitement of the discovery."

For some time now we shall find Gilbert dismissing belief in any
positive existence of evil and treating the universe on the Whitman
principle of jubilant and universal acceptance. He writes, too, in
the Whitman style. By far the most important of his notebooks is one
which, by amazing good fortune, can be dated, beginning in 1894 and
continuing for several years. In its attitude to man it is
Whitmanesque to a high degree, yet it is also most characteristically
Chestertonian. Whitman is content with a shouting, roaring optimism
about life and humanity. Chesterton had to find for it a
philosophical basis. Heartily as he disliked the literary pessimism
of the hour, he was not content simply to exchange one mood for
another. For whether he was conscious of it at the time or not, he
did later see Walt Whitman's outlook as a mood and not a philosophy.
It was a mood, however, that Chesterton himself never really lost,
solely because he did discover the philosophy needed to sustain it.
And thereby, even in this early Notebook, he goes far beyond Whitman.
Even so early he knew that a philosophy of man could not be a
philosophy of man only. He already _feels_ a presence in the universe:

   It is evening
   And into the room enters again a large indiscernable presence.
   Is it a man or a woman?
   Is it one long dead or yet to come?
   That sits with me in the evening.

This again might have been only a mood--had he not found the
philosophy to sustain it too. It is remarkable how much of this
philosophy he had arrived at in The Notebook, before he had come to
know Catholics. Indeed the Notebook seems to me so important that it
needs a chapter to itself with abundant quotation.

Meanwhile, what was Gilbert doing about his work at University
College? Professor Fred Brown told Lawrence Solomon that when he was
at the Slade School he always seemed to be writing and while
listening to lectures he was always drawing. It is probably true
that, as Cecil Chesterton says, he shrank from the technical toils of
the artist as he never did later from those of authorship; and none
of the professors regarded him as a serious art student. They pointed
later to his illustrations of _Biography for Beginners_ as proof that
he never learnt to draw. Yet how many of the men who did learn
seriously could have drawn those sketches, full of crazy energy and
vitality? I know nothing about drawing, but anyone may know how
brilliant are the illustrations to _Greybeards at Play_ or _Biography
for Beginners_, and later to Mr. Belloc's novels. And anyone can see
the power of line with which he drew in his notebooks unfinished
suggestions of humanity or divinity. Anyone, too, can recognise a
portrait of a man, and faces full of character continue to adorn
G.K.'s exercise books. Of living models he affected chiefly
Gladstone, Balfour, and Joe Chamberlin. In hours of thought he made
drawings of Our Lord with a crown of thorns or nailed to a
cross--these suddenly appear in any of his books between fantastic
drawings or lecture notes. As the mind wandered and lingered the
fingers followed it, and as Gilbert listened to lectures, he would
even draw on the top of his own notes. He had always had facility and
that facility increased, so that in later years he often completed in
a couple of hours the illustrations to a novel of Belloc's. Nor were
these drawings merely illustrations of an already completed text, for
Mr. Belloc has told me that the characters were often half suggested
to him by his friend's drawings.

On one, at any rate, of his vacations, Gilbert went to Italy, and two
letters to Bentley show much of the way his thoughts were going:

   Hotel New York
   (undated, probably 1894.)


   I turn to write my second letter to you and my first to Grey
   [Maurice Solomon], just after having a very interesting conversation
   with an elderly American like Colonel Newcome, though much better
   informed, with whom I compared notes on Botticelli, Ruskin, Carlyle,
   Emerson and the world in general. I asked him what he thought of
   Whitman. He answered frankly that in America they were "hardly up to
   him." "We have one town, Boston," he said precisely, "that has got up
   to Browning." He then added that there was one thing everyone in
   America remembered: Whitman himself. The old gentleman quite kindled
   on this topic, "Whitman was a real Man. A man who was so pure and
   strong that we could not imagine him doing an unmanly thing anywhere."
   It was odd words to hear at a table d'hôte, from your next door
   neighbour: it made me quite excited over my salad.

   You see that this humanitarianism in which we are entangled asserts
   itself where, by all guidebook laws, it should not. When I take up my
   pen to write to you, I am thinking more of a white-moustached old
   Yankee at an hotel than about the things I have seen within the same
   24 hours: the frescoes of Santa Croce, the illuminations of St.
   Marco; the white marbles of the tower of Giotto; the very Madonnas of
   Raphael, the very David of Michael Angelo. Throughout this tour, in
   pursuance of our theory of travelling, we have avoided the guide: he
   is the death-knell of individual liberty. Once only we broke through
   our rule and that was in favour of an extremely intelligent, nay
   impulsive young Italian in Santa Maria Novella, a church where we saw
   some of the most interesting pieces of mediaeval painting I have ever
   seen, interesting not so much from an artistic as from a moral and
   historical point of view. Particularly noticeable was the great
   fresco expressive of the grandest mediaeval conception of the
   Communion of Saints, a figure of Christ surmounting a crowd of all
   ages and stations, among whom were not only Dante, Petrarca, Giotto,
   etc., etc., but Plato, Cicero, and best of all, Arius. I said to the
   guide, in a tone of expostulation, "Heretico!" (a word of impromptu
   manufacture). Whereupon he nodded, smiled and was positively radiant
   with the latitudinarianism of the old Italian painter. It was
   interesting for it was a fresh proof that even the early Church
   united had a period of thought and tolerance before the dark ages
   closed around it. There is one thing that I must tell you more of
   when we meet, the tower of Giotto. It was built in a square of
   Florence, near the Cathedral, by a self-made young painter and
   architect who had kept sheep as a boy on the Tuscan hills. It is
   still called "The Shepherd's Tower." What I want to tell you about is
   the series of bas-reliefs, which Giotto traced on it, representing
   the creation and progress of man, his discovery of navigation,
   astronomy, law, music and so on. It is religious in the grandest
   sense, but there is not a shred of doctrine (even the Fall is
   omitted) about this history in stone. If Walt Whitman had been an
   architect, he would have built such a tower, with such a story on it.
   As I want to go out and have a good look at it before we start for
   Venice tomorrow, I must cut this short. I hope you are enjoying
   yourself as much as I am, and thinking about me half as much as I am
   about you.

   Your very sincere friend,

No one would have enjoyed more than Gilbert rereading this letter in
after years and noting the suggestion that the fifteenth century
belonged to the early church and preceded the Dark Ages. And I think,
too, that even in Giotto's Tower, he might later have discovered some
roots of doctrine.

   Grand Hotel De Milan


   I write you a third letter before coming back, while Venice and
   Verona are fresh in my mind. Of the former I can really only
   discourse viva voce. Imagine a city, whose very slums are full of
   palaces, whose every other house wall has a battered fresco, or a
   gothic bas-relief; imagine a sky fretted with every kind of pinnacle
   from the great dome of the Salute to the gothic spires of the Ducal
   Palace and the downright arabesque orientalism of the minarets of St.
   Mark's; and then imagine the whole flooded with a sea that seems only
   intended to reflect sunsets, and you still have no idea of the place
   I stopped in for more than 48 hours. Thence we went to Verona, where
   Romeo and Juliet languished and Dante wrote most of "Hell." The
   principal products (1) tombs: particularly those of the Scala, a very
   good old family with an excellent taste in fratricide. Their three
   tombs (one to each man I mean: one man, one grave) are really
   glorious examples of three stages of Gothic: of which more when we
   meet. (2) Balconies: with young ladies hanging over them; really
   quite a preponderating feature. Whether this was done in obedience to
   local associations and in expectation of a Romeo, I can't say. I can
   only remark that if such was the object, the supply of Juliets seemed
   very much in excess of the demand. (3) Roman remains: on which,
   however, I did not pronounce a soliloquy beginning, "Wonderful
   people . . ." which is the correct thing to do. Just as I get to this
   I receive your letter and resolve to begin another sheet of paper. I
   did read Rosebery's speech and was more than interested; I was
   stirred. The old order (of parliamentary forms, peerages, Whiggism
   and right honourable friends) has changed, yielding place to the new
   (of industrialism, county council sanitation, education and the
   Kingdom of Heaven at hand) and, whatever the Archbishop of
   Canterbury may say, God fulfils himself in many ways, even by local
   government. . . .

   Several things in your letter require notice. First the accusation
   levelled against me of being prejudiced against Professor Huxley, I
   repel with indignation and scorn. You are not prejudiced against
   cheese because you like oranges; and though the Professor is not
   Isaiah or St. Francis or Whitman or Richard le Gallienne (to name
   some of those whom I happen to affect) I should be the last person in
   the world to say a word against an earnest, able, kind-hearted and
   most refreshingly rational man: by far the best man of his type I
   know. As to what you say on education generally, I am entirely with
   you, but it will take a good interview to say how much. As for the
   little Solomons, I am prepared to [be] fond of all of them, as I am
   of all children, even the grubby little mendicants that run these
   Italian streets. I am glad you and Grey have pottered. Potter again.
   I have had such a nice letter from Lawrence. It makes me think it is
   all going "to be the fair beginning of a time."

Had the months of art study only developed in Gilbert Chesterton his
power of drawing, they might still have been worthwhile. But they
gave him, too, a time to dream and to think which working for a
University degree would never have allowed. His views and his mind
were developing fast, and he was also developing a power to which we
owe some of his best work--depth of vision.

Most art criticism is the work of those who never could have been
artists--which is possibly why it tends to be so critical. Gilbert,
who could perhaps have been an artist, preferred to appreciate what
the artist was trying to say and to put into words what he read on
the canvas. Hence both in his _Watts_ and his _Blake_ we get what
some of us ask of an art critic--the enlargement of our own powers of
vision. This is what made Ruskin so great an art critic, a fact once
realised, today forgotten. He may have made a thousand mistakes, he
had a multitude of foolish prejudices, but he opened the eyes of a
whole generation to see and understand great art.

G.K. was to begin his published writings with poetry and art
criticism--in other words with vision. And this vision he partly owed
to the Slade School. Here is a letter (undated) to Bentley containing
a hint of what eight years later became a book on Watts:

   On Saturday I saw two exhibitions of pictures. The first was the
   Royal Academy, where I went with Salter. There was one picture there,
   though the walls were decorated with frames very prettily. As to the
   one picture, if you look at an Academy catalogue you will see
   "Jonah": by G. F. Watts, and you will imagine a big silly picture of
   a whale. But if you go to Burlington House you will see something
   terrible. A spare, wild figure, clad in a strange sort of green with
   his head flung so far back that his upper part is a miracle of
   foreshortening, his hands thrust out, his face ghastly with ecstasy,
   his dry lips yelling aloud, a figure of everlasting protest and
   defiance. And as a background (perfect in harmony of colour) you have
   the tracery of the Assyrian bas-reliefs, such as survive in wrecks in
   the British Museum, a row of those processions of numberless captives
   bowing before smiling Kings: a cruel sort of art. And the passionate
   energy of that lonely screaming figure in front, makes you think of a
   great many things besides Assyrians: among others of some words of
   Renan: I quote from memory: "But the trace of Israel will be eternal.
   She it was who alone among the tyrannies of antiquity, raised her
   voice for the helpless, the oppressed, the forgotten."

   But this only expresses a fraction of it. The only thing to do is
   to come and look at this excited gentleman with bronze skin and hair
   that approaches green, his eyes simply white with madness. And Jonah
   said, "Yea, I do well to be angry: even unto death."

He had learnt to look at colour, to look at line, to describe
pictures. But far more important than this, he could now create in
the imagination gardens and sunsets and sheer colour, so as to give
to his novels and stories pictorial value, to his fantasies glow, and
to his poetry vision of the realities of things. In his very first
volume of Essays, _The Defendant_, were to be passages that could be
written only by one who had learnt to draw. For instance, in "A
Defence of Skeletons":

   The actual sight of the little wood, with its grey and silver sea
   of life is entirely a winter vision. So dim and delicate is the heart
   of the winter woods, a kind of glittering gloaming, that a figure
   stepping towards us in the chequered twilight seems as if he were
   breaking through unfathomable depths of spiders' webs.

In the year 1895, in which G.K. left art for publishing, he came of
age "with a loud report." He writes to Bentley:

   Being twenty-one years old is really rather good fun. It is one of
   those occasions when you remember the existence of all sorts of
   miscellaneous people. A cousin of mine, Alice Chesterton, daughter of
   my Uncle Arthur, writes me a delightfully cordial letter from Berlin,
   where she is a governess; and better still, my mother has received a
   most amusing letter from an old nurse of mine, an exceptionally nice
   and intelligent nurse, who writes on hearing that it is my
   twenty-first birthday. Billy (an epithet is suppressed) gave me a
   little notebook and a little photograph frame. The first thing I did
   with the notebook was to make a note of his birthday. The first thing
   I shall do with the frame will be to get Grey to give me a photograph
   of him to put into it. Yes, it is not bad, being twenty-one, in a
   world so full of kind people. . . .

   I have just been out and got soaking and dripping wet; one of my
   favourite dissipations. I never enjoy weather so much as when it is
   driving, drenching, rattling, washing rain. As Mr. Meredith says in
   the book you gave me, "Rain, O the glad refresher of the grain, and
   welcome waterspouts of blessed rain." (It is in a poem called "Earth
   and a Wedded Woman," which is fat.) Seldom have I enjoyed a walk so
   much. My sister water was all there and most affectionate. Everything
   I passed was lovely, a little boy pickabacking another little boy
   home, two little girls taking shelter with a gigantic umbrella, the
   gutters boiling like rivers and the hedges glittering with rain. And
   when I came to our corner the shower was over, and there was a great
   watery sunset right over No. 80, what Mr. Ruskin calls an "opening
   into Eternity." Eternity is pink and gold. This may seem a very
   strange rant, but it is one of my "specimen days." I suppose you
   would really prefer me to write as I feel, and I am so constituted
   that these Daily incidents get me that way. Yes, I like rain. It
   means something, I am not sure what; something freshening, cleaning,
   washing out, taking in hand, not caring-a-damn-what-you-think,
   doing-its-duty, robust, noisy, moral, wet. It is the Baptism of the
   Church of the Future.

   Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) Lawrence and Maurice came here. We were
   merely infants at play, had skipping races round the garden and
   otherwise raced. ("Runner, run thy race," said Confucius, "and in the
   running find strength and reward.") After that we tried talking about
   Magnus, and came to some hopeful conclusions. Magnus is all right. As
   for Lawrence and Grey, if there is anything righter than all right,
   they are that. . . .

   There is an expression in Meredith's book which struck me immensely:
   "the largeness of the evening earth." The sensation that the Cosmos
   has all its windows open is very characteristic of evening, just as
   it is at this moment. I feel very good. Everything out of the window
   looks very, very flat and yellow: I do not know how else to describe

   It is like the benediction at the end of the service.


The Notebook

I AM WRITING THIS chapter at a table facing Notre Dame de Paris in
front of a café filled with arguing French workmen--in the presence
of God and of Man; and I feel as if I understood the one hatred of
G.K.'s life: his loathing of pessimism. "Is a man proud of losing his
hearing, eyesight or sense of smell? What shall we say of him who
prides himself on beginning as an intellectual cripple and ending as
an intellectual corpse?"*

[* From _The Notebook_.]


   Woe unto them that keep a God like a silk hat, that believe not in
   God, but in a God.

   Woe unto them that are pompous for they will sooner or later be

   Woe unto them that are tired of everything, for everything will
   certainly be tired of them.

   Woe unto them that cast out everything, for out of everything they
   will be cast out.

   Woe unto them that cast out anything, for out of that thing they
   will be cast out.

   Woe unto the flippant, for they shall receive flippancy.

   Woe unto them that are scornful for they shall receive scorn.

   Woe unto him that considereth his hair foolishly, for his hair will
   be made the type of him.

   Woe unto him that is smart, for men will hold him smart always,
   even when he is serious.*

[* Ibid.]

A pessimist is a man who has never lived, never suffered: "Show me a
person who has plenty of worries and troubles and I will show you a
person who, whatever he is, is not a pessimist."

This idea G.K. developed later in the _Dickens_, dealing with the
alleged over-optimism of Dickens--Dickens who if he had learnt to
whitewash the universe had learnt it in a blacking factory, Dickens
who had learnt through hardship and suffering to accept and love the
universe. But that he wrote later. The quotations given here come
from the Notebook begun in 1894 and used at intervals for the next
four or five years, in which Gilbert wrote down his philosophy step
by step as he came to discover it. The handwriting is the work of art
that he must have learnt and practised, so different is it from his
boyhood's scrawl. Each idea is set down as it comes into his mind.
There is no sequence. In this book and in _The Coloured Lands_ may be
seen the creation of the Chesterton view of life--and it all took
place in his early twenties. From the seed-thoughts here, _Orthodoxy_
and the rest were to grow--here they are only seeds but seeds
containing unmistakably the flower of the future:

   They should not hear from me a word
   Of selfishness or scorn
   If only I could find the door
   If only I were born.

He makes the Unborn Babe say this in his first volume of poems. And
in the Notebook we see how the babe coming into the world must keep
this promise by accepting life with its puzzles, its beauty, its
fleetingness: "Are we all dust? What a beautiful thing dust is
though." "This round earth may be a soap-bubble, but it must be
admitted that there are some pretty colours on it." "What is the good
of life, it is fleeting; what is the good of a cup of coffee, it is
fleeting. Ha Ha Ha."

The birthday present of birth, as he was later to call it in
_Orthodoxy_, involved not bare existence only but a wealth of other
gifts. "A grievance," he heads this thought:

   Give me a little time,
   I shall not be able to appreciate them all;
   If you open so many doors
   And give me so many presents, O Lord God.

He is almost overwhelmed with all that he has and with all that is,
but accepts it ardently in its completeness.

   If the arms of a man could be a fiery circle embracing the round
   world, I think I should be that man.

Yet in the face of all this splendour the pessimist dares to find

   The mountains praise thee, O Lord!
   But what if a mountain said,
   "I praise thee;
   But put a pine-tree halfway up on the left
   It would be much more effective, believe me."
   It is time that the religion of prayer gave
   place to the religion of praise.

If the mountains must praise God, if the religion of praise expresses
the truth of things, how much more does it express the truth of
humanity--or rather of men, for he saw humanity not as an abstraction
but as the sum of human and intensely individual beings:

   Once I found a friend
   "Dear me," I said "he was made for me."
   But now I find more and more friends
   Who seem to have been made for me
   And more and yet more made for me,
   Is it possible we were all made for each other
   all over the world?

And on another page comes perhaps the most significant phrase in the
book: "I wonder whether there will ever come a time when I shall be
tired of any one person." Hence a fantastic thought of a way of
making the discovery of more people to know and to like:


   Get out a gentleman for a fortnight, then change him for a lady, or
   your ticket. No person to be kept out after a fortnight, except with
   the payment of a penny a day. Any person morally or physically
   damaging a man will be held responsible. The library omnibus calls
   once a week leaving two or three each visit. Man of the season--old
   standard man.

Or better still:

   My great ambition is to give a party at which everybody should meet
   everybody else and like them very much.


   Mr. Gilbert Chesterton
   requests the pleasure
   Of humanity's company
   to tea on Dec. 25th 1896.
   Humanity Esq., The Earth, Cosmos E.

G.K. liked everybody very much, and everything very much. He liked
even the things most of us dislike. He liked to get wet. He liked to
be tired. After that one short period of struggle he liked to call
himself "always perfectly happy." And therefore he wanted to say,
"Thank you."

   You say grace before meals
   All right.
   But I say grace before the play and the opera,
   And grace before the concert and pantomime,
   And grace before I open a book,
   And grace before sketching, painting,
   Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
   And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

Each day seemed a special gift; something that might not have been:


   Here dies another day
   During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
   And the great world round me;
   And with tomorrow begins another.
   Why am I allowed two?


   I thank thee, O Lord, for the stones in the street
   I thank thee for the hay-carts yonder and for the
   houses built and half-built
   That fly past me as I stride.
   But most of all for the great wind in my nostrils
   As if thine own nostrils were close.


   The twilight closes round me
   My head is bowed before the Universe
   I thank thee, O Lord, for a child I knew seven years ago
   And whom I have never seen since.

   Praised be God for all sides of life, for friends, lovers, art,
   literature, knowledge, humour, politics, and for the little red cloud
   away there in the west--

For, if he was to be grateful, to whom did he owe gratitude? Here is
the chief question he asked and answered at this time. At school he
was looking for God, but at the age of 16 he was, he tells us in
_Orthodoxy_, an Agnostic in the sense of one who is not sure one way
or the other. Largely it was this need for gratitude for what seemed
personal gifts that brought him to belief in a personal God. Life was
personal, it was not a mere drift; it had will in it, it was more
like a story.

   A story is the highest mark
   For the world is a story and every part of it
   And there is nothing that can touch the world or any part of it
   That is not a story.

And again, with the heading, "A Social Situation."

   We must certainly be in a novel;
   What I like about this novelist is that he takes
   such trouble about his minor characters.

The story shapes from man's birth and it is as he meets the other
characters that he finds he is in the right story.


   Perhaps there has been some mistake
   How does he know he has come to the right place?
   But when he finds friends
   He knows he has come to the right place.

   You say it is a love affair
   Hush: it is a new Garden of Eden
   And a new progeny will people a new earth
   God is always making these experiments.

Life is a story: who tells it? Life is a problem: who sets it?

   The world is a problem, not a Theorem
   And the word of the last Day will be Q.E.F.

God sets the problem, God tells the story, but can those know Him who
are characters in His story, who are working out His problem?

   Have you ever known what it is to walk along a road in such a frame
   of mind that you thought you might meet God at any turn of the path?

For this a man must be ready, against this he must never shut the

   There is one kind of infidelity blacker than all infidelities,
   Worse than any blow of secularist, pessimist, atheist,
   It is that of those persons
   Who regard God as an old institution.


   The axe falls on the wood in thuds, "God, God."
   The cry of the rook, "God," answers it
   The crack of the fire on the hearth, the voice of the brook, say the
      same name;
   All things, dog, cat, fiddle, baby,
   Wind, breaker, sea, thunderclap
   Repeat in a thousand languages--

Next in his thought comes a point where he hesitates as to the
meeting place between God and Man. How and where can these two
incommensurates find a meeting place? What is Incarnation? The
greatness and the littleness of Man obsessed Chesterton as it did
Pascal; it is the eternal riddle:


   Man is a spark flying upwards. God is everlasting.

   Who are we, to whom this cup of human life has been given, to ask
   for more? Let us love mercy and walk humbly. What is man, that thou
   regardest him?

   Man is a star unquenchable. God is in him incarnate.

   His life is planned upon a scale colossal, of which he sees
   glimpses. Let him dare all things, claim all things: he is the son
   of Man, who shall come in the clouds of glory.

   [I] saw these two strands mingling to make the religion of man.

"A scale colossal, of which he sees glimpses." This, I think, is the
first hint of the path that led Gilbert to full faith in Our Lord. In
places in these notes he regards Him certainly only as Man--but even
then as _The_ Man, the _Only_ Man in whom the colossal scale, the
immense possibilities, of human nature could be dreamed of as
fulfilled. Two notes on Marcus Aurelius are significant of the way
his mind was moving.


   A large-minded, delicate-witted, strong man,
   following the better thing like a thread between his hands.

   Him we cannot fancy choosing the lower even by mistake; we cannot
   think of him as wanting for a moment in any virtue, sincerity, mercy,
   purity, self-respect, good manners.

   Only one thing is wanting in him. He does not
   command me to perform the impossible.


   The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.
   Yes: he was soliloquising, not making something.
   Do not the words of Jesus ring
   Like nails knocked into a board
   In his father's workshop?

On two consecutive pages are notes showing how his mind is wrestling
with the question, the answer to which would complete his philosophy:


   Good news: but if you ask me what it is, I know not;
   It is a track of feet in the snow,
   It is a lantern showing a path,
   It is a door set open.


   I live in an age of varied powers and knowledge,
   Of steam, science, democracy, journalism, art:
   But when my love rises like a sea,
   I have to go back to an obscure tribe and a slain man
   To formulate a blessing.


   "Vicisti Galilæe," he said, and sank conquered
   After wrestling with the most gigantic of powers,
   A dead man.


   On a naked slope of a poor province
   A Roman soldier stood staring at a gibbet,
   Then he said, "Surely this was a righteous man,"
   And a new chapter of history opened,
   Having that for its motto.


   There was a man who dwelt in the east centuries ago,
   And now I cannot look at a sheep or a sparrow,
   A lily or a cornfield, a raven or a sunset,
   A vineyard or a mountain, without thinking of him;
   If this be not to be divine, what is it?

Cecil Chesterton tells us Gilbert read the Gospels partly because he
was not forced to read them: I suppose this really means that he read
them with a mature mind which had not been dulled to their reception
by a childhood task of routine lessons. But I do not think at this
date it had occurred to him to question the assumption of the period:
that official Christianity, its priesthood especially, had travestied
the original intention of Christ. This idea is in the _Wild Knight_
volume (published in 1900) and more briefly in a suggestion in the
Notebook for a proposed drama:

   Gabriel is hammering up a little theatre and the child looks at his
   hands, and finds them torn with nails.

   _Clergyman_. The Church should stand by the powers that be.

   _Gabriel_. Yes? . . . That is a handsome crucifix you have there at
   your chain.

That the clergy, that the Christian people, should have settled down
to an acceptance of a faulty established order, should not be alert
to all that Our Lord's life signified, was one of the problems. It
was, too, a matter of that cosmic loyalty which he analyses more
fully in _Orthodoxy_. Here he simply writes:

   It is not a question of Theology, It is a question of whether,
   placed as a sentinel of an unknown watch, you will whistle or not.

Sentinels do go to sleep and he was coming to feel that this want of
vigilance ran through the whole of humanity. In "White Wynd," a
sketch written at this time,* he adumbrates an idea to which he was
to return again in _Manalive_ especially, and in _Orthodoxy_--that we
can by custom so lose our sense of reality that the only way to enjoy
and be grateful for our possessions is to lose them for a while. The
shortest way home is to go round the world. In this story of "White
Wynd" he applies the parable only to each man's life and the world he
lives in. But in _Orthodoxy_ he applies it to the human race who have
lost revealed truth by getting so accustomed to it that they no
longer look at it. And already in the Notebook he is calling the
attention of a careless multitude to "that great Empire upon which
the sun never sets. I allude to the Universe."

[* It is published in _The Coloured Lands_.]

Most of the quotations about Our Lord come in the later part of the
book: in the earlier pages he dreams that "to this age it is given to
write the great new song, and to compile the new Bible, and to found
the new Church, and preach the new Religion." And in one rather
obscure passage he seems to hint at the thought that Christ might
come again to shape this new religion.

Going round the world, Gilbert was finding his way home; the explorer
was rediscovering his native country. He himself has given us all the
metaphors for what was happening now in his mind. Without a single
Catholic friend he had discovered this wealth of Catholic truth and
he was still travelling. "All this I felt," he later summed it up in
_Orthodoxy_, "and the age gave me no encouragement to feel it. And
all this time I had not even thought of Catholic theology."


Towards a Career

A CURIOUS LITTLE incident comes towards the end of
Gilbert's time at the Slade School. In a letter he wrote to
E. C. Bentley we see him, on the eve of his 21st birthday, being
invited to write for the _Academy_:

   Mr. Cotton is a little bristly, bohemian man, as fidgetty as a
   kitten, who runs round the table while he talks to you. When he
   agrees with you he shuts his eyes tight and shakes his head. When he
   means anything rather seriously he ends up with a loud nervous laugh.
   He talks incessantly and is mad on the history of Oxford. I sent him
   my review of Ruskin and he read it before me (Note. Hell) and
   delivered himself with astonishing rapidity to the following effect:
   "This is very good: you've got something to say: Oh, yes: this is
   worth saying: I agree with you about Ruskin and about the Century:
   this is good: you've no idea: if you saw some stuff: some reviews I
   get: the fellows are practised but of all the damned fools: you've no
   idea: they know the trade in a way: but such infernal asses: as send
   things up: but this is very good: that sentence does run _nicely:_
   but I like your point: make it a little longer and then send it in:
   I've got another book for you to review: you know Robert Bridges? Oh
   very good, very good: here it is: about two columns you know: by the
   way: keep the Ruskin for yourself: you deserve that anyhow."

   Here I got a word in: one of protest and thanks. But Mr. Cotton
   insisted on my accepting the Ruskin. So I am really to serve Laban.
   Laban proves on analysis to be of the consistency of brick. It is
   such men as this that have made our Cosmos what it is. At one point
   he said, literally dancing with glee: "Oh, the other day I stuck some
   pins into Andrew Lang." I said, "Dear me, that must be a very good
   game." It was something about an edition of Scott, but I was told
   that Andrew "took" the painful operation "very well." We sat up
   horribly late together talking about Browning, Afghans, Notes, the
   Yellow Book, the French Revolution, William Morris, Norsemen and Mr.
   Richard le Gallienne. "I don't despair for anyone," he said suddenly.
   "Hang it all, that's what you mean by humanity." This appears to be a
   rather good editor of the _Academy_. And my joy in having begun my
   life is very great. "I am tired," I said to Mr. Brodribb, "of writing
   only what I like." "Oh well," he said heartily, "you'll have no
   reason to make that complaint in journalism."

But here is a mystery. Nowhere in the _Academy_ columns for 1895
or 1896 are to be seen the initials G.K.C., yet at that date all
the reviews are signed. Mr. Eccles, who was writing for it at
the time, told me that he had no recollection of G.K. among the
contributors--and later he came to know him well when both were
together on the _Speaker_. In any case, the idea of reviewing for no
reward except the book reviewed would scarcely appeal to a more
practical man than Gilbert as a hopeful beginning. Perhaps the
mystery is solved by the fact that soon after the date of this letter
Mr. Cotton got an appointment in India. To Mr. Eccles it appeared
somewhat ironical that the unpaid contributors to the _Academy_ were
circularised with a suggestion of contributions of money towards a
parting present for their late editor.

The actual beginning of G.K.'s journalism was in _The Bookman_; and
in the _Autobiography_ he insists that it was a matter of mere luck:
"these opportunities were merely things that happened to me." While
still at the Slade School, he was, as we have seen, attending English
lectures at University College. There he met a fellow-student, Ernest
Hodder Williams, of the family which controlled the publishing house
of Hodder & Stoughton. He gave Chesterton some books on art to review
for _The Bookman_, a monthly paper published by the firm. "I need not
say," G.K. comments, "that having entirely failed to learn how to
draw or paint, I tossed off easily enough some criticisms of the
weaker points of Rubens or the misdirected talents of Tintoretto. I
had discovered the easiest of all professions, which I have pursued
ever since." But neither in the art criticism he wrote for _The
Bookman_ nor in the poems he was to publish in _The Outlook_ and _The
Speaker_ was there a living. He left the Slade School and went to
work for a publisher.

Mr. Redway, in whose office Gilbert now found himself, was a
publisher largely of spiritualist literature. Gilbert has described
in his _Autobiography_ his rather curious experience of ghostly
authorship, but he relates nothing of his office experience, which is
described in another undated letter to Mr. Bentley:

   I am writing this letter just when I like most to write one, late
   at night, after a beastly lot of midnight oil over a contribution for
   a _Slade Magazine_, intended as a public venture. I am sending them a
   recast of that "Picture of Tuesday."

   Like you, I am beastly busy, but there is something exciting about
   it. If I must be busy (as I certainly must, being an approximately
   honest man) I had much rather be busy in a varied, mixed up way, with
   half a hundred things to attend to, than with one blank day of
   monotonous "study" before me. To give you some idea of what I mean. I
   have been engaged in 3 different tiring occupations and enjoyed them
   all. (1) Redway says, "We've got too many MSS; read through them,
   will you, and send back those that are too bad at once." I go slap
   through a room full of MSS, criticising deuced conscientiously, with
   the result that I post back some years of MSS to addresses, which I
   should imagine, must be private asylums. But one feels worried,
   somehow. . . .

   (2) Redway says, "I'm going to give you entire charge of the press
   department, sending copies to Reviews, etc." Consequence is, one has
   to keep an elaborate book and make it tally with other elaborate
   books, and one has to remember all the magazines that exist and what
   sort of books they'd crack up. I used to think I hated
   responsibility: I am positively getting to enjoy it. (3) There is
   that confounded "Picture of Tuesday" which I have been scribbling at
   the whole evening, and have at last got it presentable. This sounds
   like mere amusement, but, now that I have tried other kinds of hurry
   and bustle, I solemnly pledge myself to the opinion that there is no
   work so tiring as writing, that is, not for fun, but for publication.
   Other work has a repetition, a machinery, a reflex action about it
   somewhere, but to be on the stretch inventing fillings, making them
   out of nothing, making them as good as you can for a matter of four
   hours leaves me more inclined to lie down and read Dickens than I
   ever feel after nine hours ramp at Redway's. The worst of it is that
   you always think the thing so bad too when you're in that state. I
   can't imagine anything more idiotic than what I've just finished.
   Well, enough of work and all its works. By all means come on Monday
   evening, but don't be frightened if by any chance I'm not in till
   about 6.30, as Monday is a busy day. Of course you'll stop to
   dinner . . . what an idiotically long time 8 weeks is. . . .

This letter does not seem to bear out the suggestion in Cecil's book*
of Gilbert's probable uselessness to the publishers for whom he
worked. After all, literacy is more needful to most publishers than
automatic practicality, because it is so very much rarer. Probably
G.K. would have been absolutely invaluable had he been a little less
kind-hearted. His dislike of sending back a manuscript and making an
author unhappy would have been a bar to his utility as a reader. But
there are lots of other things to do besides rejecting manuscripts,
and two later letters show how capable Gilbert was felt to be in
doing most of them.

[* _G. K. Chesterton: A Criticism_, see p. 23.]

The exact date at which he left Redway's for the publishing firm of
Fisher Unwin (of 11 Paternoster Buildings) I cannot discover, but it
was fairly early and he was several years with Fisher Unwin, only
gradually beginning to move over into journalism.

"He did nothing for himself," says Lucian Oldershaw, "till we
[Bentley and Oldershaw] came down from Oxford and pushed him."

The following letters belong to 1898, being written to Frances when
they were already engaged, but I put them here as they give some
notion of the work he did for his employer.

   . . . The book I have to deal with for Unwin is an exhaustive and I
   am told interesting work on "Rome and the Empire" a kind of
   realistic, modern account of the life of the ancient world. I have
   got to fix it up, choose illustrations, introductions, notes, etc.,
   and all because I am the only person who knows a little Latin and
   precious little Roman history and no more archaeology than a blind
   cat. It is entertaining, and just like our firm's casual way. The
   work ought to be done by an authority on Roman antiquities. If I
   hadn't been there they would have given it to the office boy.

   However, I shall get through it all right: the more I see of the
   publishing world, the more I come to the conclusion that I know next
   to nothing, but that the vast mass of literary people know less. This
   is sometimes called having "a public-school education."*

[* Extract from undated letter (postmarked, Aug. 11, 1898).]

*   *   *

   I have a lot of work to do, as Unwin has given the production of an
   important book entirely into my hands, as a kind of invisible editor.
   It is complimentary, but very worrying, and will mean a lot of time
   at the British Museum.*

[* Extract from undated letter (postmarked, Aug. 29, 1898).]

   11 Paternoster Bldgs.
   (Postmark, December 1898)

   . . . For fear that you should really suppose that my observations
   about being busy are the subterfuges of a habitual liar, I may give
   you briefly some idea of the irons at present in the fire. As far as
   I can make out there are at least seven things that I have undertaken
   to do and everyone of them I ought to do before any of the others.

   1st. There is the book about Ancient Rome which I have to do for
   T.F.U.--arrange and get illustrations etc. This all comes of showing
   off. It is a story with a moral (Greedy Gilbert: or Little Boys
   Should be Seen and not Heard). A short time ago I had to read a
   treatise by Dean Stubbs on "The Ideal Woman of the Poets" in which
   the Dean remarked that "all the women admired by Horace were
   wantons." This struck me as a downright slander, slight as is my
   classical knowledge, and in my report I asked loftily what Dean
   Stubbs made of those noble lines on the wife who hid her husband
   from his foes.

   _Splendide mendax et in omne virgo
   Nobilis aevum_

   One of the purest and stateliest tributes ever made to a woman.
   (The lines might be roughly rendered "A magnificent liar and a noble
   lady for all eternity"; but no translation can convey the
   organ-voice of the verse, in which the two strong and lonely words
   "noble" and "eternity" stand solitary for the last line.) In
   consequence of my taking up the cudgels against a live Dean for the
   manly moral sense of the dear old Epicurean, the office became
   impressed with a vague idea that I know something about Latin
   literature--whereas, as a matter of fact I have forgotten even the
   line before the one I quoted. However, in the most confidential and
   pathetic manner I was entrusted with doing with "Rome et l'Empire"
   work which ought to be done by a scholar. . . .

   2nd. Then there is Captain Webster. You ask (in gruff, rumbling
   tones) "Who is Captain Webster?" I will tell you.

   Captain Webster is a small man with a carefully waxed moustache and
   a very Bond Street get up, living at the Grosvenor Hotel. Talking to
   him you would say: he is an ass, but an agreeable ass, a humble,
   transparent honourable ass. He is an innocent and idiotic butterfly.
   The interesting finishing touch is that he has been to New Guinea for
   four years or so, and had some of the most hideous and extravagant
   adventures that could befall a modern man. His yacht was surrounded
   by shoals of canoes full of myriads of cannibals of a race who file
   their teeth to look like the teeth of dogs, and hang weights in their
   ears till the ears hang like dogs' ears, on the shoulder. He held his
   yacht at the point of the revolver and got away, leaving some of his
   men dead on the shore. All night long he heard the horrible noise of
   the banqueting gongs and saw the huge fires that told his friends
   were being eaten. Now he lives in the Grosvenor Hotel. Captain
   Webster finds the pen, not only mightier than the sword, but also
   much more difficult. He has written his adventures and we are to
   publish them and I am translating the honest captain into English
   grammar, a thing which appals him much more than Papuan savages. This
   means going through it carefully of course and rewriting many parts
   of it, where relatives and dependent sentences have been lost past
   recovery. I went to see him, and his childlike dependence on me was
   quite pathetic. His general attitude was, "You see I'm such a damned
   fool." And so he is. But when I compare him with the Balzacian
   hauteur and the preposterous posing of many of our Fleet Street
   decadent geniuses, I feel a movement of the blood which declares that
   perhaps there are worse things than War. (Between ourselves, I have a
   sneaking sympathy with fighting: I fought horribly at school. It is
   well you should know my illogicalities.)

   3rd. There is the selection of illustrations for the History of
   China we are producing. I know no more of China than the Man in the
   Moon (less, for he has seen it, at any rate), except what I got from
   reading the book, but of course I shall make the most of what I do
   know and airily talk of La-o-tsee and Wu-sank-Wei, criticise
   Chung-tang and Fu-Tche, compare Tchieu Lung with his great successor,
   whose name I have forgotten, and the Napoleonic vigour of Li with the
   weak opportunism of Woo. Before I have done I hope people will be
   looking behind for my pig-tail. The name I shall adopt will be

   4th. A MS to read translated from the Norwegian: a History of the
   Kiss, Ceremonial, Amicable, Amatory, etc.--in the worst French
   sentimental style. God alone knows how angry I am with the author of
   that book. I am not sure that I shall not send up the brief report.
   "A snivelling hound."

   5th. The book for Nutt [_Greybeards at Play_], which has reached
   its worst stage, that of polishing up for the eye of Nutt, instead of
   merely rejoicing in the eye of God. Do you know this is the only one
   of the lot about which I am at all worried. I do not feel as if
   things like the Fish poem are really worth publishing. I know they
   are better than many books that are published, but Heaven knows that
   is not saying much. In support of some of my work I would fight to
   the last. But with regard to this occasional verse I feel a humbug.
   To publish a book of my nonsense verses seems to me exactly like
   summoning the whole of the people of Kensington to see me smoke

   Macgregor told me that I should do much better in the business of
   literature if I found the work more difficult. My facility, he said,
   led me to undervalue my work. I wonder whether this is true, and
   those silly rhymes are any good after all.

   6th. The collection of more serious poems of which I spoke to you.
   You shall have a hand in the selection of these when you get back.

   7th. The Novel--which though I have put it aside for the present,
   yet has become too much a part of me not to be constantly having
   chapters written--or rather growing out of the others.

   And all these things, with the exception of the last one, are
   supposed to be really urgent, and to be done immediately. . . . Now I
   hope I have sickened you forever of wanting to know the details of my
   dull affairs. But I hope it may give you some notion of how hard it
   really is to get time for writing just now. For you see they are none
   of them even mechanical things: they all require some thinking about.

   I am afraid . . . that if you really want to know what I do, you
   must forgive me for seeming egoistic. That is the tragedy of the
   literary person: his very existence is an assertion of his own mental
   vanity: he must pretend to be conceited even if he isn't. . . .

Beginning to publish, beginning to write, and still developing
mentally at a frantic rate--this is a summary of the years 1895-8.

As the Notebook shows, Gilbert was reflecting deeply at this time on
the relations both between God and man and between man and his fellow
man. The realisation that their relations had gone very far wrong was
necessarily followed--for Gilbert's _mind_ was an immensely practical
one--by the question of what the proposed remedies were worth. He has
told us that he became a Socialist at this time only because it was
intolerable not to be a Socialist. The Socialists seemed the only
people who were looking at conditions as they were and finding them
unendurable. Christian Socialism seemed at first sight, for anyone
who admired Christ, to be the obvious form of Socialism, and, in a
fragment of this period, G.K. traces the resemblance of modern
collectivism to early Christianity.

   The points in which Christian and Socialistic collectivism are at
   one are simple and fundamental. As, however, we must proceed
   carefully in this matter, we may state these points of resemblance
   under three heads.

   (1) Both rise from the deeps of an emotion, the emotion of compassion
   for misfortune, as such. This is really a very important point.
   Collectivism is not an intellectual fad, even if erroneous, but a
   passionate protest and aspiration: it arises as a secret of the
   heart, a dream of the injured feeling, long before it shapes itself
   as a definite propaganda at all. The intellectual philosophies ally
   themselves with success and preach competition, but the human heart
   allies itself with misfortune and suggests communism.

   (2) Both trace the evil state of society to "covetousness," the
   competitive desire to accumulate riches. Thus, both in one case and
   the other, the mere possession of wealth is in itself an offence
   against moral order, the absence of it in itself a recommendation and
   training for the higher life.

   (3) Both propose to remedy the evil of competition by a system of
   "bearing each other's burdens" in the literal sense, that is to say,
   of levelling, silencing and reducing one's own chances, for the
   chance of your weaker brethren. The desirability, they say, of a
   great or clever man acquiring fame is small compared with the
   desirability of a weak and broken man acquiring bread. The strong man
   is a man, and should modify or adapt himself to the hopes of his
   mates. He that would be first among you, let him be the servant of

   These are the three fountains of collectivist passion. I have not
   considered it necessary to enter into elaborate proof of the presence
   of these three in the Gospels. That the main trend of Jesus'
   character was compassion for human ills, that he denounced not merely
   covetousness but riches again and again, and with an almost impatient
   emphasis, and that he insisted on his followers throwing up personal
   aims and sharing funds and fortune entirely, these are plain matters
   of evidence presented again and again, and, in fact, of common

Yet that uncanny thing in Gilbert which always forced him to see
facts, mutinied again at this point and produced another fragment in
which he has moved closer to Christianity and thereby further away
from modern Socialism. The world he lived in contained a certain
number of Christians who were, he found, highly doubtful about the
Christian impulse of Socialism. And most of his Socialist friends had
about them a tone of bitterness and an atmosphere of hopelessness
utterly unlike the tone and the atmosphere of Christianity. Just as
atheists were the first people to turn Gilbert from Atheism towards
dogmatic Christianity, so the Socialists were now turning him from

The next fragment is rather long, but it was never published and I
think it so important, as showing how his mind was moving, that it
cannot well be shortened. It is a document of capital importance for
the biography of Chesterton.

   Now, for my own part, I cannot in the least agree with those who
   see no difference between Christian and modern Socialism, nor do I
   for a moment join in some Christian Socialists' denunciations of
   those worthy middle-class people who cannot see the connection. For I
   cannot help thinking that in a way these latter people are right. No
   reasonable man can read the Sermon on the Mount and think that its
   tone is not very different from that of most collectivist speculation
   of the present day, and the Philistines feel this, though they cannot
   distinctly express it. There is a difference between Christ's
   Socialist program and that of our own time, a difference deep,
   genuine and all important, and it is this which I wish to point out.

   Let us take two types side by side, or rather the same type in the
   two different atmospheres. Let us take the "rich young man" of the
   Gospels and place beside him the rich young man of the present day,
   on the threshold of Socialism. If we were to follow the difficulties,
   theories, doubts, resolves, and conclusions of each of these
   characters, we should find two very distinct threads of
   self-examination running through the two lives. And the essence of
   the difference was this: the modern Socialist is saying, "What will
   society do?" while his prototype, as we read, said, "What shall I
   do?" Properly considered, this latter sentence contains the whole
   essence of the older Communism. The modern Socialist regards his
   theory of regeneration as a duty which society owes to him, the early
   Christian regarded it as a duty which he owed to society; the modern
   Socialist is busy framing schemes for its fulfilment, the early
   Christian was busy considering whether he would himself fulfil it
   there and then; the ideal of modern Socialism is an elaborate Utopia
   to which he hopes the world may be tending, the ideal of the early
   Christian was an actual nucleus "living the new life" to whom he
   might join himself if he liked. Hence the constant note running
   through the whole gospel, of the importance, difficulty and
   excitement of the "call," the individual and practical request made
   by Christ to every rich man, "sell all thou hast and give to the

   To us Socialism comes speculatively as a noble and optimistic
   theory of what may [be] the crown of progress, to Peter and James and
   John it came practically as a crisis of their own Daily life, a
   stirring question of conduct and renunciation.

   We do not therefore in the least agree with those who hold that
   modern Socialism is an exact counterpart or fulfilment of the
   socialism of Christianity. We find the difference important and
   profound, despite the common ground of anti-selfish collectivism. The
   modern Socialist regards Communism as a distant panacea for society,
   the early Christian regarded it as an immediate and difficult
   regeneration of himself: the modern Socialist reviles, or at any rate
   reproaches, society for not adopting it, the early Christian
   concentrated his thoughts on the problem of his own fitness and
   unfitness to adopt it: to the modern Socialist it is a theory, to the
   early Christian it was a call; modern Socialism says, "Elaborate a
   broad, noble and workable system and submit it to the progressive
   intellect of society." Early Christianity said, "Sell all thou hast
   and give to the poor."

   This distinction between the social and personal way of regarding
   the change has two sides, a spiritual and a practical which we
   propose to notice. The spiritual side of it, though of less direct
   and revolutionary importance than the practical, has still a very
   profound philosophic significance. To us it appears something
   extraordinary that this Christian side of Socialism, the side of the
   difficulty of the personal sacrifice, and the patience, cheerfulness,
   and good temper necessary for the protracted personal surrender is so
   constantly overlooked. The literary world is flooded with old men
   seeing visions and young men dreaming dreams, with various stages of
   anti-competitive enthusiasm, with economic apocalypses, elaborate
   Utopias and mushroom destinies of mankind. And, as far as we have
   seen, in all this whirlwind of theoretic excitement there is not a
   word spoken of the intense practical difficulty of the summons to the
   individual, the heavy, unrewarding cross borne by him who gives up
   the world.

   For it will not surely be denied that not only will Socialism be
   impossible without some effort on the part of individuals, but that
   Socialism if once established would be rapidly dissolved, or worse
   still, diseased, if the individual members of the community did not
   make a constant effort to do that which in the present state of human
   nature must mean an effort, to live the higher life. Mere state
   systems could not bring about and still less sustain a reign of
   unselfishness, without a cheerful decision on the part of the members
   to forget selfishness even in little things, and for that most
   difficult and at the same time most important personal decision
   Christ made provision and the modern theorists make no provision at
   all. Some modern Socialists do indeed see that something more is
   necessary for the golden age than fixed incomes and universal stores
   tickets, and that the fountain heads of all real improvement are to
   be found in human temper and character. Mr. William Morris, for
   instance, in his "News from Nowhere" gives a beautiful picture of a
   land ruled by Love, and rightly grounds the give-and-take camaraderie
   of his ideal state upon an assumed improvement in human nature. But
   he does not tell us how such an improvement is to be effected, and
   Christ did. Of Christ's actual method in this matter I shall speak
   afterwards when dealing with the practical aspect, my object just now
   is to compare the spiritual and emotional effects of the call of
   Christ, as compared to those of the vision of Mr. William Morris.
   When we compare the spiritual attitudes of two thinkers, one of whom
   is considering whether social history has been sufficiently a course
   of improvement to warrant him in believing that it will culminate in
   universal altruism, while the other is considering whether he loves
   other people enough to walk down tomorrow to the market-place and
   distribute everything but his staff and his scrip, it will not be
   denied that the latter is likely to undergo certain deep and acute
   emotional experiences, which will be quite unknown to the former. And
   these emotional experiences are what we understand as the spiritual
   aspect of the distinction. For three characteristics at least the
   Galilean programme makes more provision; humility, activity,
   cheerfulness, the real triad of Christian virtues.

   Humility is a grand, a stirring thing, the exalting paradox of
   Christianity, and the sad want of it in our own time is, we believe,
   what really makes us think life dull, like a cynic, instead of
   marvellous, like a child. With this, however, we have at present
   nothing to do. What we have to do with is the unfortunate fact that
   among no persons is it more wanting than among Socialists, Christian
   and other. The isolated or scattered protest for a complete change in
   social order, the continual harping on one string, the necessarily
   jaundiced contemplation of a system already condemned, and above all,
   the haunting pessimistic whisper of a possible hopelessness of
   overcoming the giant forces of success, all these impart undeniably
   to the modern Socialist a tone excessively imperious and bitter. Nor
   can we reasonably blame the average money-getting public for their
   impatience with the monotonous virulence of men who are constantly
   reviling them for not living communistically, and who after all, are
   not doing it themselves. Willingly do we allow that these latter
   enthusiasts think it impossible in the present state of society to
   practise their ideal, but this fact, while vindicating their
   indisputable sincerity, throws an unfortunate vagueness and
   inconclusiveness over their denunciations of other people in the same
   position. Let us compare with this arrogant and angry tone among the
   modern Utopians who can only dream "the life," the tone of the early
   Christian who was busy living it. As far as we know, the early
   Christians never regarded it as astonishing that the world as they
   found it was competitive and unregenerate; they seem to have felt
   that it could not in its pre-Christian ignorance have been anything
   else, and their whole interest was bent on their own standard of
   conduct and exhortation which was necessary to convert it. They felt
   that it was by no merit of theirs that they had been enabled to enter
   into the life before the Romans, but simply as a result of the fact
   that Christ had appeared in Galilee and not in Rome. Lastly, they
   never seem to have entertained a doubt that the message would itself
   convert the world with a rapidity and ease which left no room for
   severe condemnation of the heathen societies.

   With regard to the second merit, that of activity, there can be
   little doubt as to where it lies between the planner of the Utopia
   and the convert of the brotherhood. The modern Socialist is a
   visionary, but in this he is on the same ground as half the great men
   of the world, and to some extent of the early Christian himself, who
   rushed towards a personal ideal very difficult to sustain. The
   visionary who yearns toward an ideal which is practically impossible
   is not useless or mischievous, but often the opposite; but the person
   who is often useless, and always mischievous, is the visionary who
   dreams with the knowledge or the half-knowledge that his ideal is
   impossible. The early Christian might be wrong in believing that by
   entering the brotherhood men could in a few years become perfect even
   as their Father in Heaven was perfect, but he believed it and acted
   flatly and fearlessly on the belief: this is the type of the higher
   visionary. But all the insidious dangers of the vision; the idleness,
   the procrastination, the mere mental aestheticism, come in when the
   vision is indulged, as half our Socialistic conceptions are, as a
   mere humour or fairy-tale, with a consciousness, half-confessed, that
   it is beyond practical politics, and that we need not be troubled
   with its immediate fulfilment. The visionary who believes in his own
   most frantic vision is always noble and useful. It is the visionary
   who does not believe in his vision who is the dreamer, the idler, the
   Utopian. This then is the second moral virtue of the older school, an
   immense direct sincerity of action, a cleansing away, by the sweats
   of hard work, of all those subtle and perilous instincts of mere
   ethical castle-building which have been woven like the spells of an
   enchantress, round so many of the strong men of our own time.

   The third merit, which I have called cheerfulness, is really the
   most important of all. We may perhaps put the comparison in this way.
   It might strike many persons as strange that in a time on the whole
   so optimistic in its intellectual beliefs as this is, in an age when
   only a small minority disbelieve in social progress, and a large
   majority believe in an ultimate social perfection, there should be
   such a tired and blasé feeling among numbers of young men. This, we
   think, is due, not to the want of an ultimate ideal, but to that of
   any immediate way of making for it: not of something to hope but of
   something to do. A human being is not satisfied and never will be
   satisfied with being told that it is all right: what he wants is not
   a prediction of what other people will be hundreds of years hence, to
   make him cheerful, but a new and stirring test and task for himself,
   which will assuredly make him cheerful. A knight is not contented
   with the statement that his commander has hid his plans so as to
   insure victory: what the knight wants is a sword. This demand for a
   task is not mere bravado, it is an eternal and natural part of the
   higher optimism, as deep-rooted as the foreshadowing of perfection.

I do not know whether Gilbert would yet have actually called himself
a Christian. He was certainly tending towards the more Christian
elements in his surroundings. It seems pretty clear from all he wrote
and said later that he did not hold that transformation to have been
fully effected until after his meeting with Frances, to whom he wrote
many years later:

   Therefore I bring these rhymes to you
   Who brought the Cross to me.

These papers are undated and are arranged in no sequence. It is
possible this last one was written after their first meeting. Certain
it is that in it he had begun feeling after a more Christian
arrangement of society than Socialism offered--and particularly after
an arrangement better suited to the nature of man. This thought of
man's nature as primary was to remain the basis of his social
thinking to the end of his life.


Incipit Vita Nova

IN THE NOTEBOOK may be seen Gilbert's occasional thoughts
about his own future love story.


   Suddenly in the midst of friends,
   Of brothers known to me more and more,
   And their secrets, histories, tastes, hero-worships,
   Schemes, love-affairs, known to me
   Suddenly I felt lonely.
   Felt like a child in a field with no more games to play
   Because I have not a lady
   to whom to send my thought at that hour
   that she might crown my peace.


   About her whom I have not yet met
   I wonder what she is doing
   Now, at this sunset hour,
   Working perhaps, or playing, worrying or laughing,
   Is she making tea, or singing a song, or writing,
      or praying, or reading
   Is she thoughtful, as I am thoughtful
   Is she looking now out of the window
   As I am looking out of the window?

But a few pages later comes the entry:


   You are a very stupid person.
   I don't believe you have the least idea how nice you are.

F.B. was Frances, daughter of a diamond merchant some time dead. The
family was of French descent, the name de Blogue having been somewhat
unfortunately anglicised into Blogg. They had fallen from
considerable wealth into a degree of poverty that made it necessary
for the three daughters to earn a living. Frances was never strong
and Gilbert has told how utterly exhausted she was at the end of each
day's toil--"she worked very hard as secretary of an educational
society in London."* The family lived in Bedford Park, a suburb of
London that went in for artistic housing and a kind of garden-city
atmosphere long before this was at all general. Judging by their
photographs the three girls must all have been remarkably pretty, and
young men frequented the house in great numbers, among them Brimley
Johnson who was engaged to Gertrude, and Lucian Oldershaw who later
married Ethel. Some time in 1896, Oldershaw took Gilbert to call and
Gilbert, literally at first sight, fell in love with Frances.

[* _Autobiography_, p. 153.]


   God made you very carefully
   He set a star apart for it
   He stained it green and gold with fields
   And aureoled it with sunshine
   He peopled it with kings, peoples, republics
   And so made you, very carefully.
   All nature is God's book, filled with his rough sketches for you.*

[* _The Notebook_.]

When almost forty years later Gilbert was writing his
_Autobiography_, Frances asked him to keep her out of it. The liking
they both had for keeping private life private made him call it "this
very Victorian narrative." Nevertheless he tells us something of the
early days of their acquaintance. Gilbert had mentioned the moon:

   She told me in the most normal and unpretentious tone that she
   hated the moon. I talked to the same lady several times afterwards;
   and found that this was a perfectly honest statement of the fact. Her
   attitude on this and other things might be called a prejudice; but it
   could not possibly be called a fad, still less an affectation. She
   really had an obstinate objection to all those natural forces that
   seemed to be sterile or aimless; she disliked loud winds that seemed
   to be going nowhere; she did not care much for the sea, a spectacle
   of which I was very fond; and by the same instinct she was up against
   the moon, which she said looked like an imbecile. On the other hand,
   she had a sort of hungry appetite for all the fruitful things like
   fields and gardens and anything connected with production; about
   which she was quite practical. She practised gardening; in that
   curious cockney culture she would have been quite ready to practise
   farming; and on the same perverse principle, she actually practised a
   religion. This was something utterly unaccountable both to me and to
   the whole fussy culture in which she lived. Any number of people
   proclaimed religions, chiefly oriental religions, analysed or argued
   about them; but that anybody could regard religion as a practical
   thing like gardening was something quite new to me and, to her
   neighbours, new and incomprehensible. She had been, by an accident,
   brought up in the school of an Anglo-Catholic convent; and to all
   that agnostic or mystic world, practising a religion was much more
   puzzling than professing it. She was a queer card. She wore a green
   velvet dress barred with grey fur, which I should have called
   artistic, but that she hated all the talk about art; and she had an
   attractive face, which I should have called elvish, but that she
   hated all the talk about elves. But what was arresting and almost
   blood-curdling about her, in that social atmosphere, was not so much
   that she hated it, as that she was entirely unaffected by it. She
   never knew what was meant by being "under the influence" of Yeats or
   Shaw or Tolstoy or anybody else. She was intelligent, with a great
   love of literature, and especially of Stevenson. But if Stevenson had
   walked into the room and explained his personal doubts about personal
   immortality, she would have regretted that he should be wrong upon
   the point; but would otherwise have been utterly unaffected. She was
   not at all like Robespierre, except in a taste for neatness in dress;
   and yet it is only in Mr. Belloc's book on Robespierre that I have
   ever found any words that describe the unique quality that cut her
   off from the current culture and saved her from it. "God had given
   him in his mind a stone tabernacle in which certain great truths were
   preserved imperishable."*

[* _Autobiography_, pp. 151-3.]

A letter to a friend, Mildred Wain, who was now engaged to Waldo
d'Avigdor, makes the future tolerably easy to foresee.

   . . . My brother wishes me to thank you with ferocious gratitude
   for the music, which he is enjoying tremendously. It reminds me
   rather of what Miss Frances Blogg--but that is another story.

   In your last letter you enquired whether I saw anything of the
   Bloggs now. If you went and put that question to them there would be
   a scene. Mrs. Blogg would probably fall among the fire-irons, Knollys
   would foam in convulsions on the carpet, Ethel would scream and take
   refuge on the mantelpiece and Gertrude faint and break off her
   engagement. Frances would--but no intelligent person can affect an
   interest in what she does.

Lawrence Solomon told me that Mrs. Edward Chesterton did not approve
of the rather arty-crafty atmosphere of Bedford Park--that earliest
of Garden Cities, so conventionally unconventional--where Frances
lived. She did not like her son's friendship with the Bloggs and she
had chosen for him a girl who she felt would make him an ideal wife:
"Very open air," Mr. Solomon said. "Not booky, but good at games and
practical." He was not sure whether Gilbert realised this, but
personally I believe that Gilbert realised everything.

"Of course you know," Annie Firmin wrote to me, "that Aunt Marie
never liked Frances? Or Bentley?" Annie was the girl chosen by
Gilbert's mother. She was very much a member of the family.

"Did Gilbert ever speak to you," she wrote to me recently, "of the
old Saturday night parties at Barnes, at the home of the
grandparents--every Saturday night the family, or as many of it as
could, used to go down to Barnes to supper, and the 'boys' and Tom
Gilbert, Alice Chesterton's husband, used to sing round the supper
table. Many a one I went to when I was staying at Warwick Gardens. We
used to go on a red Hammersmith bus, before the days of motor cars."

On a longer trip they stayed at Berck in Belgium, and Cecil had a
strange idea, apparently regarded by him as humorous, which measures
the family absence of a Christian sense at this date. "Cecil urged me
to sit at the foot of the big Crucifix in the village street and let
him photograph me as Mary Magdalen! I _didn't_, and I don't know how
he thought he'd get away with the modern clothing."

Whatever Gilbert's mother may have planned for them, neither she nor
Gilbert had any romantic feeling for each other. Indeed Cecil was
definitely her favourite and she believed him the favourite of both
parents also. "He had more heart," she says, "than the more brilliant
Gilbert." Anyhow, his heart was shown more openly to her.

"Cecil was not much given to versifying," she wrote in another
letter, "he sent me the enclosed when my son was born. I value it so
much." Headed "To Annie" the poem is a long one. It begins with the
"ancient comradeship, loyal and unbroken" in which they had "first
seen life together."

   Shining nights, tumultuous days,
   Joy swift caught in sudden ways,
   All the laughter, love and praise,
   All the joys of living

   These we shared together dear,
   Plot and jest and story,
   This is hid, shut off, unknown,
   Seeing that to you alone
   Is the wondrous Kingdom shown
   And the power and Glory!

Annie's thoughts, then, and Cecil's were not greatly on the elder
brother, who was pursuing his own romance with a heart that seems to
have been fairly adequate in its energies.

Most mothers have watched their sons through one or more experiences
of calf love: Gilbert indicates in the _Autobiography_--and I knew
it, too, from some jokes he and Frances used to make--that he had had
one or two fancies before the coming of Reality. He must then
convince his mother that Reality had come: he must overcome a
prejudice avowed by neither: he must call on the deeps of a mother's
feelings so effectively that it would never now be avowed, that it
might indeed be swept away.

And so, sitting at a table in a seaside lodging, as his mother sat in
the same room or moved about making cocoa for the family, Gilbert
tried to express what even for him was the inexpressible.

   1 Rosebery Villas
   Granville Road


   You may possibly think this a somewhat eccentric proceeding. You
   are sitting opposite and talking--about Mrs. Berline. But I take this
   method of addressing you because it occurs to me that you might
   possibly wish to turn the matter over in your mind before writing or
   speaking to me about it.

   I am going to tell you the whole of a situation in which I believe
   I have acted rightly, though I am not absolutely certain, and to ask
   for your advice on it. It was a somewhat complicated one, and I
   repeat that I do not think I could rightly have acted otherwise, but
   if I were the greatest fool in the three kingdoms and had made
   nothing but a mess of it, there is one person I should always turn to
   and trust. Mothers know more of their son's idiocies than other
   people can, and this has been peculiarly true in your case. I have
   always rejoiced at this, and not been ashamed of it: this has always
   been true and always will be. These things are easier written than
   said, but you know it is true, don't you?

   I am inexpressibly anxious that you should give me credit for
   having done my best, and for having constantly had in mind the way in
   which you would be affected by the letter I am now writing. I do hope
   you will be pleased.

   Almost eight years ago, you made a remark--this may show you that
   if we "jeer" at your remarks, we remember them. The remark applied to
   the hypothetical young lady with whom I should fall in love and took
   the form of saying "If she is good, I shan't mind who she is." I
   don't know how many times I have said that over to myself in the last
   two or three days in which I have decided on this letter.

   Do not be frightened; or suppose that anything sensational or final
   has occurred. I am not married, my dear mother, neither am I engaged.
   You are called to the council of chiefs very early in its
   deliberations. If you don't mind I will tell you, briefly, the whole

   You are, I think, the shrewdest person for seeing things whom I
   ever knew: consequently I imagine that you do not think that I go
   down to Bedford Park every Sunday for the sake of the scenery. I
   should not wonder if you know nearly as much about the matter as I
   can tell in a letter. Suffice it to say however briefly (for neither
   of us care much for gushing: this letter is not on Mrs. Ratcliffe
   lines) that the first half of my time of acquaintance with the Bloggs
   was spent in enjoying a very intimate, but quite breezy and Platonic
   friendship with Frances Blogg, reading, talking and enjoying life
   together, having great sympathies on all subjects; and the second
   half in making the thrilling, but painfully responsible discovery
   that Platonism, on my side, had not the field by any means to itself.
   That is how we stand now. No one knows, except her family and

   My dearest mother, I am sure you are at least not unsympathetic.
   Indeed we love each other more than we shall either of us ever be
   able to say. I have refrained from sentiment in this letter--for I
   don't think you like it much. But love is a very different thing from
   sentiment and you will never laugh at that. I will not say that you
   are sure to like Frances, for all young men say that to their
   mothers, quite naturally, and their mothers never believe them, also,
   quite naturally. Besides, I am so confident, I should like you to
   find her out for yourself. She is, in reality, very much the sort of
   woman you like, what is called, I believe, "a Woman's Woman," very
   humorous, inconsequent and sympathetic and defiled with no offensive
   exuberance of good health.

   I have nothing more to say, except that you and she have occupied
   my mind for the last week to the exclusion of everything else, which
   must account for my abstraction, and that in her letter she sent the
   following message: "Please tell your mother soon. Tell her I am not
   so silly as to expect her to think me good enough, but really I will
   try to be."

   An aspiration which, considered from my point of view, naturally
   provokes a smile.

   Here you give me a cup of cocoa. Thank you.

   Believe me, my dearest mother,

   Always your very affectionate son


What exactly Gilbert meant by saying they were "not engaged" it is
hard to surmise, in view of Frances's message to her future
mother-in-law. Of his sensations when proposing Gilbert gives some
idea in the _Autobiography:_

   It was fortunate, however, that our next most important meeting was
   not under the sign of the moon but of the sun. She has often
   affirmed, during our later acquaintance, that if the sun had not been
   shining to her complete satisfaction on that day, the issue might
   have been quite different. It happened in St. James's Park; where
   they keep the ducks and the little bridge, which has been mentioned
   in no less authoritative a work than Mr. Belloc's Essay on Bridges,
   since I find myself quoting that author once more. I think he deals
   in some detail, in his best topographical manner, with various
   historic sites on the Continent; but later relapses into a larger
   manner, somewhat thus: "The time has now come to talk at large about
   Bridges. The longest bridge in the world is the Forth Bridge, and the
   shortest bridge in the world is a plank over a ditch in the village
   of Loudwater. The bridge that frightens you most is the Brooklyn
   Bridge, and the bridge that frightens you least is the bridge in St.
   James's Park." I admit that I crossed that bridge in undeserved
   safety; and perhaps I was affected by my early romantic vision of the
   bridge leading to the princess's tower. But I can assure my friend
   the author that the bridge in St. James's Park can frighten you a
   good deal.*

[* _Autobiography_, pp. 154-5.]

Now, with Frances promised to him, Gilbert could enjoy everything
properly, could execute, verbally at least, a wild fantasia. Among
the first of his friends to be written to was Mildred Wain, because,
as he says in a later letter, he felt towards her deep gratitude "for
forming a topic of conversation on my first visit to a family with
which I have since formed a dark and shameful connection."


   On rising this morning, I carefully washed my boots in hot water
   and blacked my face. Then assuming my coat with graceful ease and
   with the tails in front, I descended to breakfast, where I gaily
   poured the coffee on the sardines and put my hat on the fire to boil.
   These activities will give you some idea of my frame of mind. My
   family, observing me leave the house by way of the chimney, and take
   the fender with me under one arm, thought I must have something on my
   mind. So I had.

   My friend, I am engaged. I am only telling it at present to my real
   friends: but there is no doubt about it. The next question that
   arises is--whom am I engaged to? I have investigated this problem
   with some care, and, as far as I can make out, the best authorities
   point to Frances Blogg. There can I think be no reasonable doubt that
   she is the lady. It is as well to have these minor matters clear in
   one's mind.

   I am very much too happy to write much; but I thought you might
   remember my existence sufficiently to be interested in the incident.

   Waldo has been of so much help to me in this and in everything, and
   I am so much interested in you for his sake and your own, that I am
   encouraged to hope our friendship may subsist. If ever I have done
   anything rude or silly, it was quite inadvertent. I have always
   wished to please you.

To Annie Firmin he wrote:

   I can only think of the day, one of the earliest I can recall of my
   life, when you came in and helped me to build a house with bricks. I
   am building another one now, and it would not have been complete
   without your going over it.

To others he wrote such sentences as he could put together in the
whirlwind of his happiness. For himself he stammered in a verse that
grew with the years into his great love poetry.

   God made thee mightily, my love,
   He stretched his hands out of his rest
   And lit the star of east and west
   Brooding o'er darkness like a dove.
   God made thee mightily, my love.

   God made thee patiently, my sweet,
   Out of all stars he chose a star
   He made it red with sunset bar
   And green with greeting for thy feet.
   God made thee mightily, my sweet.


To Frances

THIS CHAPTER CAN be written only by Gilbert himself. It might seem
that he had no words left for an emotion heightened beyond the love
of his friends and the joyous acceptance of existence. But in these
letters he shows the truth of his own theory, that to love each thing
separately strengthens the power of loving, to have tried to love
everyone is, as he tells Frances, no bad preparation for loving her.
The emotion of falling in love had both intensified his appreciation
of all things and cast for him a vivid light on past, present and
future, so that in the last of these letters he sketches his life
down to the moment when a new life begins.

". . . I am looking over the sea and endeavouring to reckon up the
estate I have to offer you. As far as I can make out my equipment for
starting on a journey to fairyland consists of the following items.

"1st. A Straw Hat. The oldest part of this admirable relic shows
traces of pure Norman work. The vandalism of Cromwell's soldiers has
left us little of the original hat-band.

"2nd. A Walking Stick, very knobby and heavy: admirably fitted to
break the head of any denizen of Suffolk who denies that you are the
noblest of ladies, but of no other manifest use.

"3rd. A copy of Walt Whitman's poems, once nearly given to Salter,
but quite forgotten. It has his name in it still with an affectionate
inscription from his sincere friend Gilbert Chesterton. I wonder if
he will ever have it.

"4th. A number of letters from a young lady, containing everything
good and generous and loyal and holy and wise that isn't in Walt
Whitman's poems.

"5th. An unwieldy sort of a pocket knife, the blades mostly having an
edge of a more varied and picturesque outline than is provided by the
prosaic cutter. The chief element however is a thing 'to take stones
out of a horse's hoof.' What a beautiful sensation of security it
gives one to reflect that if one should ever have money enough to buy
a horse and should happen to buy one and the horse should happen to
have a stone in his hoof--that one is ready; one stands prepared,
with a defiant smile!

"6th. Passing from the last miracle of practical foresight, we come
to a box of matches. Every now and then I strike one of these,
because fire is beautiful and burns your fingers. Some people think
this waste of matches: the same people who object to the building of

"7th. About three pounds in gold and silver, the remains of one of
Mr. Unwin's bursts of affection: those explosions of spontaneous love
for myself, which, such is the perfect order and harmony of his mind,
occur at startlingly exact intervals of time.

"8th. A book of Children's Rhymes, in manuscript, called the 'Weather
Book' about ¾ finished, and destined for Mr. Nutt.* I have been
working at it fairly steadily, which I think jolly creditable under
the circumstances. One can't put anything interesting in it. They'll
understand those things when they grow up.

[* _Greybeards at Play_.]

"9th. A tennis racket--nay, start not. It is a part of the new
régime, and the only new and neat-looking thing in the Museum. We'll
soon mellow it--like the straw hat. My brother and I are teaching
each other lawn tennis.

"10th. A soul, hitherto idle and omnivorous but now happy enough to
be ashamed of itself.

"11th. A body, equally idle and quite equally omnivorous, absorbing
tea, coffee, claret, sea-water and oxygen to its own perfect
satisfaction. It is happiest swimming, I think, the sea being about a
convenient size.

"12th. A Heart--mislaid somewhere. And that is about all the property
of which an inventory can be made at present. After all, my tastes
are stoically simple. A straw hat, a stick, a box of matches and some
of his own poetry. What more does man require? . . ."

". . . The City of Felixstowe, as seen by the local prophet from the
neighbouring mountain-peak, does not strike the eye as having
anything uncanny about it. At least I imagine that it requires rather
careful scrutiny before the eerie curl of a chimney pot, or the elfin
wink of a lonely lamp-post brings home to the startled soul that it
is really the City of a Fearful Folk. That the inhabitants are not
human in the ordinary sense is quite clear, yet it has only just
begun to dawn on me after staying a week in the Town of Unreason with
its monstrous landscape and grave, unmeaning customs. Do I seem to be
raving? Let me give my experiences.

"I am bound to admit that I do not think I am good at shopping. I
generally succeed in getting rid of money, but other observances,
such as bringing away the goods that I've paid for, and knowing what
I've bought, I often pass over as secondary. But to shop in a town of
ordinary tradesmen is one thing: to shop in a town of raving lunatics
is another. I set out one morning, happy and hopeful with the
intention of buying (a) a tennis racket (b) some tennis balls (c)
some tennis shoes (d) a ticket for a tennis ground. I went to the
shop pointed out by some villager (probably mad) and went in and said
I believed they kept tennis rackets. The young man smiled and
assented. I suggested that he might show me some. The young man
looked positively alarmed. 'Oh,' he said, 'We haven't got any--not
got any here.' I asked 'Where?' 'Oh, they're out you know. All
round,' he explained wildly, with a graphic gesture in the direction
of the sea and the sky. 'All out round. We've left them all round at
places.' To this day I don't know what he meant, but I merely asked
when they would quit these weird retreats. He said in an hour: in an
hour I called again. Were they in now? 'Well not in--not in, just
yet,' he said with a sort of feverish confidentialness, as if he
wasn't quite well. 'Are they still--all out at places?' I asked with
restrained humour. 'Oh no!' he said with a burst of reassuring pride.
'They are only out there--out behind, you know.' I hope my face
expressed my beaming comprehension of the spot alluded to.
Eventually, at a third visit, the rackets were produced. None of
them, I was told by my brother, were of any first-class maker, so
that was outside the question. The choice was between some good, neat
first-hand instruments which suited me, and some seedy-looking
second-hand objects with plain deal handles, which would have done at
a pinch. I thought that perhaps it would be better to get a
good-class racket in London and content myself for the present with
economising on one of these second-hand monuments of depression. So I
asked the price. '10/6' was the price of the second-hand article. I
thought this large for the tool, and wondered if the first-hand
rackets were much dearer. What price the first-hand? '7/6' said the
Creature, cheery as a bird. I did not faint. I am strong.

"I rejected the article which was dearer because it had been hallowed
by human possession, and accepted the cheap, new crude racket. Except
the newness there was no difference between them whatever. I then
asked the smiling Maniac for balls. He brought me a selection of
large red globes nearly as big as Dutch cheeses. I said, 'Are these
tennis-balls?' He said, 'Oh did you want tennis-balls?' I said
Yes--they often came in handy at tennis. The goblin was however quite
impervious to satire, and I left him endeavouring to draw my
attention to his wares in general, particularly to some zinc baths
which he seemed to think should form part of the equipment of a

"Never before or since have I met a being of that order and degree of
creepiness. He was a nightmare of unmeaning idiocy. But some mention
ought to be made of the old man at the entrance to the tennis ground
who opened his mouth in parables on the subject of the fee for
playing there. He seemed to have been wound up to make only one
remark, 'It's sixpence.' Under these circumstances the attempt to
discover whether the sixpence covered a day's tennis or a week or
fifty years was rather baffling. At last I put down the sixpence.
This seemed to galvanise him into life. He looked at the clock, which
was indicating five past eleven and said, 'It's sixpence an hour--so
you'll be all right till two.' I fled screaming.

"Since then I have examined the town more carefully and feel the
presence of something nameless. There is a claw-curl in the sea-bent
trees, an eye-gleam in the dark flints in the wall that is not of
this world.

"When we set up a house, darling (honeysuckle porch, yew clipt hedge,
bees, poetry and eight shillings a week), I think you will have to do
the shopping. Particularly at Felixstowe. There was a great and
glorious man who said, 'Give us the luxuries of life and we will
dispense with the necessities.' That I think would be a splendid
motto to write (in letters of brown gold) over the porch of our
hypothetical home. There will be a sofa for you, for example, but no
chairs, for I prefer the floor. There will be a select store of
chocolate-creams (to make you do the Carp with) and the rest will be
bread and water. We will each retain a suit of evening dress for
great occasions, and at other times clothe ourselves in the skins of
wild beasts (how pretty you would look) which would fit your taste in
furs and be economical.

"I have sometimes thought it would be very fine to take an ordinary
house, a very poor, commonplace house in West Kensington, say, and
make it symbolic. Not artistic--Heaven--O Heaven forbid. My blood
boils when I think of the affronts put by knock-kneed pictorial
epicures on the strong, honest, ugly, patient shapes of necessary
things: the brave old bones of life. There are aesthetic pottering
prigs who can look on a saucepan without one tear of joy or sadness:
mongrel decadents that can see no dignity in the honourable scars of
a kettle. So they concentrate all their house decoration on coloured
windows that nobody looks out of, and vases of lilies that everybody
wishes out of the way. No: my idea (which is much cheaper) is to make
a house really allegoric: really explain its own essential meaning.
Mystical or ancient sayings should be inscribed on every object, the
more prosaic the object the better; and the more coarsely and rudely
the inscription was traced the better. 'Hast thou sent the Rain upon
the Earth?' should be inscribed on the Umbrella-stand: perhaps on the
Umbrella. 'Even the Hairs of your Head are all numbered' would give a
tremendous significance to one's hairbrushes: the words about 'living
water' would reveal the music and sanctity of the sink: while 'our
God is a consuming Fire' might be written over the kitchen-grate, to
assist the mystic musings of the cook--Shall we ever try that
experiment, dearest. Perhaps not, for no words would be golden enough
for the tools you had to touch: you would be beauty enough for one
house. . . ."

". . . By all means let us have bad things in our dwelling and make
them good things. I shall offer no objection to your having an
occasional dragon to dinner, or a penitent Griffin to sleep in the
spare bed. The image of you taking a Sunday school of little Devils
is pleasing. They will look up, first in savage wonder, then in vague
respect; they will see the most glorious and noble lady that ever
lived since their prince tempted Eve, with a halo of hair and great
heavenly eyes that seem to make the good at the heart of things
almost too terribly simple and naked for the sons of flesh: and as
they gaze, their tails will drop off, and their wings will sprout:
and they will become Angels in six lessons. . . .

"I cannot profess to offer any elaborate explanation of your mother's
disquiet but I admit it does not wholly surprise me. You see I happen
to know one factor in the case, and one only, of which you are wholly
ignorant. I know you . . . I know one thing which has made me feel
strange before your mother--I know the value of what I take away. I
feel (in a weird moment) like the Angel of Death.

"You say you want to talk to me about death: my views about death are
bright, brisk and entertaining. When Azrael takes a soul it may be to
other and brighter worlds: like those whither you and I go together.
The transformation called Death may be something as beautiful and
dazzling as the transformation called Love. It may make the dead man
'happy,' just as your mother knows that you are happy. But none the
less it is a transformation, and sad sometimes for those left behind.
A mother whose child is dying can hardly believe that in the
inscrutable Unknown there is anyone who can look to it as well as
she. And if a mother cannot trust her child easily to God Almighty,
shall I be so mean as to be angry because she cannot trust it easily
to me? I tell you I have stood before your mother and felt like a
thief. I know you are not going to part: neither physically,
mentally, morally nor spiritually. But she sees a new element in your
life, wholly from outside--is it not natural, given her temperament,
that you should find her perturbed? Oh, dearest, dearest Frances, let
us always be very gentle to older people. Indeed, darling, it is not
they who are the tyrants, but we. They may interrupt our building in
the scaffolding stages: we turn their house upside down when it is
their final home and rest. Your mother would certainly have worried
if you had been engaged to the Archangel Michael (who, indeed, is
bearing his disappointment very well): how much more when you are
engaged to an aimless, tactless, reckless, unbrushed, strange-hatted,
opinionated scarecrow who has suddenly walked into the vacant place.
I could have prophesied her unrest: wait and she will calm down all
right, dear. God comfort her: I dare not. . . ."

". . . Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born of comfortable but honest
parents on the top of Campden Hill, Kensington. He was christened at
St. George's Church which stands just under that more imposing
building, the Waterworks Tower. This place was chosen, apparently, in
order that the whole available water supply might be used in the
intrepid attempt to make him a member of Christ, a child of God and
an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

"Of the early years of this remarkable man few traces remain. One of
his earliest recorded observations was the simple exclamation, full
of heart-felt delight, 'Look at Baby. Funny Baby.' Here we see the
first hint of that ineffable conversational modesty, that shy social
self-effacement, which has ever hidden his light under a bushel. His
mother also recounts with apparent amusement an incident connected
with his imperious demand for his father's top-hat. 'Give me that
hat, please.' 'No, dear, you mustn't have that.' 'Give me that hat.'
'No, dear--' 'If you don't give it me, I'll say 'At.' An exquisite
selection in the matter of hats has indeed always been one of the
great man's hobbies.

"When he had drawn pictures on all the blinds and tablecloths and
towels and walls and windowpanes it was felt that he required a
larger sphere. Consequently he was sent to Mr. Bewsher who gave him
desks and copy-books and Latin grammars and atlases to draw pictures
on. He was far too innately conscientious not to use these materials
to draw on. To other uses, asserted by some to belong to these
objects, he paid little heed. The only really curious thing about his
school life was that he had a weird and quite involuntary habit of
getting French prizes. They were the only ones he ever got and he
never tried to get them. But though the thing was quite mysterious to
him, and though he made every effort to avoid it, it went on, being
evidently a part of some occult natural law.

"For the first half of his time at school he was very solitary and
futile. He never regretted the time, for it gave him two things,
complete mental self-sufficiency and a comprehension of the
psychology of outcasts.

"But one day, as he was roaming about a great naked building land
which he haunted in play hours, rather like an outlaw in the woods,
he met a curious agile youth with hair brushed up off his head.
Seeing each other, they promptly hit each other simultaneously and
had a fight. Next day they met again and fought again. These Homeric
conflicts went on for many days, till one morning in the crisis of
some insane grapple, the subject of this biography quoted, like a
war-chant, something out of Macaulay's _Lays_. The other started and
relaxed his hold. They gazed at each other. Then the foe quoted the
following line. In this land of savages they knew each other. For the
next two hours they talked books. They have talked books ever since.
The boy was Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The incident just narrated is
the true and real account of the first and deepest of our hero's male
connections. But another was to ensue, probably equally profound and
far more pregnant with awful and dazzling consequences. Bentley
always had a habit of trying to do things well: twelve years of the
other's friendship has not cured him of this. Being seized with a
peculiar desire to learn conjuring, he had made the acquaintance of
an eerie and supernatural young man, who instructed him in the Black
Art: a gaunt Mephistophelian sort of individual, who our subject half
thought was a changeling. Our subject has not quite got over the idea
yet, though for practical social purposes he calls him Lucian
Oldershaw. Our subject met Lucian Oldershaw. 'That night,' as
Shakespeare says, 'there was a star.'

"These three persons soon became known through the length and breadth
of St. Paul's School as the founders of a singular brotherhood. It
was called the J.D.C. No one, we believe, could ever have had better
friends than did the hero of this narrative. We wish that we could
bring before the reader the personality of all the Knights of that
eccentric round table. Most of them are known already to the reader.
Even the subject himself is possibly known to the reader. Bertram,
who seemed somehow to have been painted by Vandyck, a sombre and
stately young man, a blend of Cavalier and Puritan, with the physique
of a military father and the views of an ethical mother and a soul of
his own which for sheer simplicity is something staggering. Vernède
with an Oriental and inscrutable placidity varied every now and then
with dazzling agility and Meredithian humour. Waldo d'Avigdor who
masks with complete fashionable triviality a Hebraic immutability of
passion tried in a more ironical and bitter service than his Father
Jacob. Lawrence and Maurice Solomon, who show another side of the
same people, the love of home, the love of children, the meek and
malicious humour, the tranquil service of a law. Salter who shows how
beautiful and ridiculous a combination can be made of the most
elaborate mental cultivation and artistic sensibility and omniscience
with a receptiveness and a humility extraordinary in any man. These
were his friends. May he be forgiven for speaking of them at length
and with pride? Some day we hope the reader may know them all. He
knew these people; he knew their friends. He heard Mildred Wain say
'Blogg' and he thought it was a funny name. Had he been told that he
would ever pronounce it with the accents of tears and passion he
would have said, in his pride, that the name was not suitable for
that purpose. But there are _oukh eph' emin_ [Greek characters in
original]. . . .

"He went for a time to an Art School. There he met a great many
curious people. Many of the men were horrible blackguards: he was not
exactly that: so they naturally found each other interesting. He went
through some rather appalling discoveries about human life and the
final discovery was that there is no Devil--no, not even such a thing
as a bad man.

"One pleasant Saturday afternoon Lucian said to him, 'I am going to
take you to see the Bloggs.' 'The what?' said the unhappy man. 'The
Bloggs,' said the other, darkly. Naturally assuming that it was the
name of a public-house he reluctantly followed his friend. He came to
a small front-garden; if it was a public-house it was not a
businesslike one. They raised the latch--they rang the bell (if the
bell was not in the close time just then). No flower in the pots
winked. No brick grinned. No sign in Heaven or earth warned him. The
birds sang on in the trees. He went in.

"The first time he spent an evening at the Bloggs there was no one
there. That is to say there was a worn but fiery little lady in a
grey dress who didn't approve of 'catastrophic solutions of social
problems.' That, he understood, was Mrs. Blogg. There was a long,
blonde, smiling young person who seemed to think him quite off his
head and who was addressed as Ethel. There were two people whose
meaning and status he couldn't imagine, one of whom had a big nose
and the other hadn't. . . . Lastly, there was a Juno-like creature in
a tremendous hat who eyed him all the time half wildly, like a shying
horse, because he said he was quite happy. . . .

"But the second time he went there he was plumped down on a sofa
beside a being of whom he had a vague impression that brown hair grew
at intervals all down her like a caterpillar. Once in the course of
conversation she looked straight at him and he said to himself as
plainly as if he had read it in a book: 'If I had anything to do with
this girl I should go on my knees to her: if I spoke with her she
would never deceive me: if I depended on her she would never deny me:
if I loved her she would never play with me: if I trusted her she
would never go back on me: if I remembered her she would never forget
me. I may never see her again. Goodbye.' It was all said in a flash:
but it was all said. . . .

"Two years, as they say in the playbills, is supposed to elapse. And
here is the subject of this memoir sitting on a balcony above the
sea. The time, evening. He is thinking of the whole bewildering
record of which the foregoing is a brief outline: he sees how far he
has gone wrong and how idle and wasteful and wicked he has often
been: how miserably unfitted he is for what he is called upon to be.
Let him now declare it and hereafter for ever hold his peace.

"But there are four lamps of thanksgiving always before him. The
first is for his creation out of the same earth with such a woman as
you. The second is that he has not, with all his faults, 'gone after
strange women.' You cannot think how a man's self-restraint is
rewarded in this. The third is that he has tried to love everything
alive: a dim preparation for loving you. And the fourth is--but no
words can express that. Here ends my previous existence. Take it: it
led me to you."


A Long Engagement

GILBERT SYMPATHIZED WITH his future mother-in-law's anxiety at
Frances's engagement to "a self-opinionated scarecrow," but I doubt
if it at all quickly occurred to him that the basis of that anxiety
was the fact that he was earning only twenty-five shillings a week!
Frances herself, Lucian Oldershaw, and the rest of his friends
believed he was a genius with a great future and this belief they
tried to communicate to Frances's family. But even if they succeeded,
faith in the future did not pay dividends in a present income on
which to set up house. A widow, considering her daughter's future,
might well feel a little anxiety. But one can see wheels within
wheels of family conclaves and matters to perplex the simple which
drew another letter from Gilbert to Frances:

   . . . It is a mystic and refreshing thought that I shall never
   understand Bloggs.

   That is the truth of it . . . that this remarkable family
   atmosphere . . . this temperament with its changing moods and its
   everlasting will, its divine trust in one's soul and its tremulous
   speculations as to one's "future," its sensitiveness like a tempered
   sword, vibrating but never broken: its patience that can wait for
   Eternity and its impatience that cannot wait for tea: its power of
   bearing huge calamities, and its queer little moods that even those
   calamities can never overshadow or wipe out: its brusqueness that
   always pleases and its over-tactfulness that sometimes wounds: its
   terrific intensity of feeling, that sometimes paralyses the outsider
   with conversational responsibility: its untranslatable humour of
   courage and poverty and its unfathomed epics of past tragedy and
   triumph--all this glorious confusion of family traits, which, in no
   exaggerative sense, make the Gentiles come to your light and the folk
   of the nations to the brightness of your house--is a thing so utterly
   outside my own temperament that I was formed by nature to admire and
   not understand it. God made me very simply--as he made a tree or a
   pig or an oyster: to perform certain functions. The best thing he
   gave me was a perfect and unshakable trust in those I love. . . .

Gilbert's sympathy with his future mother-in-law may have been put
to some slight strain by an incident related by Lucian Oldershaw.
Mrs. Blogg begged him to talk to Gilbert about his personal
appearance--clothes and such matters--and to entreat him to make an
effort to improve it. One can imagine how much he must have disliked
the commission! Anyhow, he decided it would be better to do it away
from home and he suggested to Gilbert a trip to the seaside. Arrived
there he broached the subject. Gilbert, he says, was not the least
angry, but answered quite seriously that Frances loved him as he was
and that it would be absurd for him to try to alter. It was only out
of a later and deeper experience of women that he was able to write
"A man's friends like him but they leave him as he is. A man's wife
loves him and is always trying to change him."

A good many things happened in the course of this long engagement.
Frances and Gilbert were both young and long engagements were normal
at that period, when the idea of a wife continuing to earn after
marriage was unheard of. There were obvious disadvantages in the long
delay before marriage but also certain advantages. The two got to
know each other with a close intimacy: they were comrades as well as
lovers and carried both these relationships into married life. For
the biographer the advantage has been immense, since every separation
between the pair meant a batch of letters. The discerning will have
noted that there are in these letters considerable excisions: parts
Frances would not show even to the biographer. . But they are the
richest quarry from which to dig for the most important period of any
man's life; the period richest in mental development and the shaping
of character. It is, too, the only period of his adult life when
Gilbert wrote letters at all, unless they were absolutely unavoidable.

Even in a small family two members will tend to draw together more
closely than the rest, and this was so with Frances and her sister
Gertrude. They adored one another and Frances offered her to Gilbert
as a sister, with especially confident pride. He had never had a
sister since babyhood and he enjoyed it. The happiness of the
engagement was terribly broken into by the sudden death of Gertrude
in a street accident. Frances was absolutely shattered. The next
group of letters belongs to the months after Gertrude's death, when
Gilbert was still trying to be a publisher, but, urged on by Frances,
beginning also to be a writer. During part of this time she had gone
abroad for rest and recovery after the shock. Gilbert pictures her
reading his letters "under the shadow of an alien cathedral."

None of these letters are dated but most of them have kept their

   11, Paternoster Buildings
   (postmarked July 8, 1899)

   . . . I am black but comely at this moment: because the cyclostyle
   has blacked me. Fear not. I shall wash myself. But I think it my duty
   to render an accurate account of my physical appearance every time I
   write: and shall be glad of any advice and assistance. . . . I have
   been reading Lewis Carroll's remains, mostly Logic, and have much
   pleasure in enlivening you with the following hilarious query: "Can a
   Hypothetical, whose protasis is false, be legitimate? Are two
   Hypotheticals of the forms, _If A, then B_, and _If A then not B_
   compatible?" I should think a Hypothetical could be, if it tried
   hard. . . .

   To return to the Cyclostyle. I like the Cyclostyle ink; it is so
   inky. I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce
   pleasure in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of
   water excites and intoxicates me: the fieriness of fire, the
   steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud. It is just the
   same with people. When we call a man "manly" or a woman "womanly" we
   touch the deepest philosophy.

   I will not ask you to forgive this rambling levity. I, for one have
   sworn, I do not hesitate to say it, by the sword of God that has
   struck us, and before the beautiful face of the dead, that the first
   joke that occurred to me I would make, the first nonsense poem I
   thought of I would write, that I would begin again at once with a
   heavy heart at times, as to other duties, to the duty of being
   perfectly silly, perfectly extravagant, perfectly trivial, and as far
   as possible, amusing. I have sworn that Gertrude should not feel,
   wherever she is, that the comedy has gone out of our theatre. This, I
   am well aware, will be misunderstood. But I have long grasped that
   whatever we do we are misunderstood--small blame to other people; for,
   we know ourselves, our best motives are things we could neither
   explain nor defend. And I would rather hurt those who can shout than
   her who is silent.

   You might tell me what you feel about this: but I am myself
   absolutely convinced that gaiety that is the bubble of love, does not
   annoy me: the old round of stories, laughter, family ceremonies,
   seems to me far less really inappropriate than a single moment of
   forced silence or unmanly shame. . . .

I have always imagined Frances did not know of her mother's efforts
to tidy Gilbert, but very early in their engagement she began her own
abortive attempts to make him brush his hair, tie his tie straight
and avoid made-up ones, attend to the buttons on his coat, and all
the rest. It would seem that for a time at any rate he made some
efforts, but evidently simply regarded the whole thing as one huge

   11 Warwick Gardens
   (Postmarked July 9th, 1899)

   . . . I am clean. I am wearing a frockcoat, which from a
   superficial survey seems to have no end of buttons. It must be
   admitted that I am wearing a bow-tie: but on careful research I find
   that these were constantly worn by Vikings. A distinct allusion to
   them is made in that fine fragment, the Tryggvhessa Saga, where the
   poet says, in the short alliterative lines of Early Norse poetry:

   Frockcoat Folding then
   Hakon Hardrada
   Bow-tie Buckled
   Waited for war

(Brit. Mus. Mss. CCCLXIX lines 99981-99985)

   I resume. My appearance, as I have suggested, is singularly
   exemplary. My boots are placed, after the fastidious London fashion,
   on the feet: the laces are done up, the watch is going, the hair is
   brushed, the sleeve-links are inserted, for of such is the Kingdom of
   Heaven. As for my straw hat, I put it on eighteen times
   consecutively, taking a run and a jump to each try, till at last I
   hit the right angle. I have not taken it off for three days and
   nights lest I should disturb that exquisite pose. Ladies, princes,
   queens, ecclesiastical processions go by in vain: I do not remove it.
   That angle of the hat is something to mount guard over. As Swinburne
   says--"Not twice on earth do the gods do this."

   It is at present what is, I believe, called a lovely summer's
   night. To say that it is hot would be as feeble a platitude as the
   same remark would be in the small talk of Satan and Beelzebub.

   If there were such a thing as _blue_-hot iron, it would describe
   the sky tonight. I cannot help dreaming of some wild fairy-tale in
   which the whole round cosmos should be a boiling pot, with the flames
   of Purgatory under it, and that soon I shall have the satisfaction of
   seeing such a thing as boiled mountains, boiled cities, and a boiled
   moon and stars. A tremendous picture. Yet I am perfectly happy as
   usual. After all, why should we object to be boiled? Potatoes, for
   example, are better boiled than raw--why should we fear to be boiled
   into new shapes in the cauldron? These things are an allegory.

   . . . I am so glad to hear you say . . . that, in your own words "it
   is good for us to be here"--where you are at present. The same remark,
   if I remember right, was made on the mountain of the Transfiguration.
   It has always been one of my unclerical sermons to myself, that that
   remark which Peter made on seeing the vision of a single hour, ought
   to be made by us all, in contemplating every panoramic change in the
   long Vision we call life--other things superficially, but this always
   in our depths. "It is good for us to be here--it is good for us to be
   here," repeating itself eternally. And if, after many joys and
   festivals and frivolities, it should be our fate to have to look on
   while one of us is, in a most awful sense of the words, "transfigured
   before our eyes": shining with the whiteness of death--at least, I
   think, we cannot easily fancy ourselves wishing not to be at our
   post. Not I, certainly. It was good for me to be there.

*   *   *   *

   11 Warwick Gardens
   (postmarked July 11, 1899.)

   . . . The novel, after which you so kindly enquire, is proceeding
   headlong. It received another indirect stimulus today, when Mr.
   Garnett insisted on taking me out to lunch, gave me a gorgeous repast
   at a restaurant, succeeded in plucking the secret of my private
   employment from my bosom, and made me promise to send him some
   chapters of it. I certainly cannot complain of not being
   sympathetically treated by the literary men I know. I wonder where
   the jealous, spiteful, depreciating man of letters we read of in
   books has got to. It's about time he turned up, I think. Excuse me
   for talking about these trivialities. . . .

   I have made a discovery: or I should say seen a vision. I saw it
   between two cups of black coffee in a Gallic restaurant in Soho: but
   I could not express it if I tried.

   But this was one thing that it said--that all good things are one
   thing. There is no conflict between the gravestone of Gertrude and a
   comic-opera tune played by Mildred Wain. But there is everlasting
   conflict between the gravestone of Gertrude and the obscene pomposity
   of the hired mute: and there is everlasting conflict between the
   comic-opera tune and any mean or vulgar words to which it may be set.
   These, which man hath joined together, God shall most surely sunder.
   That is what I am feeling . . . now every hour of the day. All good
   things are one thing. Sunsets, schools of philosophy, babies,
   constellations, cathedrals, operas, mountains, horses, poems--all
   these are merely disguises. One thing is always walking among us in
   fancy-dress, in the grey cloak of a church or the green cloak of a
   meadow. He is always behind, His form makes the folds fall so
   superbly. And that is what the savage old Hebrews, alone among the
   nations, guessed, and why their rude tribal god has been erected on
   the ruins of all polytheistic civilisations. For the Greeks and
   Norsemen and Romans saw the superficial wars of nature and made the
   sun one god, the sea another, the wind a third. They were not
   thrilled, as some rude Israelite was, one night in the wastes, alone,
   by the sudden blazing idea of all being the same God: an idea worthy
   of a detective story.

   11, Paternoster Buildings
   (postmarked July 14, 1899.)

   . . . costume slightly improved. The truth is that a mystical and
   fantastic development has taken place. My clothes have rebelled
   against me. Weary of scorn and neglect, they have all suddenly come
   to life and they dress me by force every morning. My frockcoat leaps
   upon me like a lion and hangs on, dragging me down. As I struggle my
   boots trip me up--and the laces climb up my feet (never missing a
   hole) like snakes or creepers. At the same moment the celebrated grey
   tie springs at my throat like a wild cat.

   I am told that the general effects produced by this remarkable
   psychical development are superb. Really the clothes must know
   best. Still it is awkward when a mackintosh pursues one down the
   street. . . .

   . . . There is nothing in God's earth that really expresses the
   bottom of the nature of a man in love except Burns' songs. To the man
   not in love they must seem inexplicably simple. When he says, "My
   love is like the melody that's sweetly played in tune," it seems
   almost a crude way of referring to music. But a man in love with a
   woman feels a nerve move suddenly that Dante groped for and
   Shakespeare hardly touched. What made me think of Burns, however, was
   that one of his simple and sudden things, hitting the right nail so
   that it rings, occurs in the song of "O a' the airts the wind can
   blaw," where he merely says that there is nothing beautiful anywhere
   but it makes him think of the woman. That is not really a mere
   aesthetic fancy, a chain of sentimental association--it is an actual
   instinctive elemental movement of the mind, performed automatically
   and instantly. . . .

   Felixstowe (undated)

   . . . I have as you see, arrived here. I have done other daring
   things, such as having my hair shampooed, as you commanded, and also
   cut. The effect of this is so singularly horrible that I have found
   further existence in London impossible. Public opinion is too strong
   for me. . . . There are many other reasons I could give for being
   pleased to come: such as that I have some time for writing the novel;
   that I can make up stories I don't intend to write . . . that there
   are phosphorescent colours on the sea and a box of cigarettes on the

   Some fragments of what I felt [about Gertrude's death] have
   struggled out in the form of some verses which I am writing out for
   you. But for real strength (I don't like the word "comfort") for real
   peace, no human words are much good except perhaps some of the
   unfathomable, unintelligible, unconquerable epigrams of the Bible. I
   remember when Bentley had a burning boyish admiration for Professor
   Huxley, and when that scientist died some foolish friend asked him
   quite flippantly in a letter what he felt about it. Bentley replied
   with the chapter and verse reference to one of the Psalms, alone on a
   postcard. The text was, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the
   death of one of his saints." The friend, I remember, thought it "a
   curious remark about Huxley." It strikes me as a miraculous remark
   about anybody. It is one of those magic sayings where every word hits
   a chain of association, God knows how.

   "Precious"--we could not say that Gertrude's death is happy or
   providential or sweet or even perhaps good. But it is something.
   "Beautiful" is a good word--but "precious" is the only right word.

   It is this passionate sense of the _value_ of things: of the
   richness of the cosmic treasure: the world where every star is a
   diamond, every leaf an emerald, every drop of blood a ruby, it is
   this sense of preciousness that is really awakened by the death of
   His saints. Somehow we feel that even their death is a thing of
   incalculable value and mysterious sweetness: it is awful, tragic,
   desolating, desperately hard to bear--but still "precious." . . .
   Forgive the verbosity of one whose trade it is to express the

The verses he speaks of in this letter, Frances treasured greatly.
She showed them to me, in a book which opens with a very touching
prayer in her own writing. In a later chapter I quote the lines in
which Gilbert writes of his own tone-deafness, and of how he saw what
music meant as he watched his wife's face. Something of the same
effect is produced on me by these verses. Gilbert was not of course
tone-deaf to this tragedy, yet it was chiefly in its effect on
Frances that it affected him.

   The sudden sorrow smote my love
   That often falls twixt kiss and kiss
   And looking forth awhile she said
   Can no man tell me where she is.

And again

   Stricken they sat: and through them moved
   My own dear lady, pale and sweet.

   This soul whose clearness makes afraid
   Our souls: this wholly guiltless one--
   No cobweb doubts--no passion smoke
   Have veiled this mirror from Thy sun.

In letters to Frances he could enter so deeply into her grief as to
make it his own. But when he wrote verse and spoke as it were to
himself or to God, the reflected emotion was not enough. These verses
could never rank with his real poetry.

It was not possible in fact for a man so happily in love to dwell
lastingly on any sorrow. And I cannot avoid the feeling that, quite
apart from any theory, cheerfulness was constantly "breaking in." For
Gilbert was a very happy man. Across the top of one of his letters is
written: "You can always tell the real love from the slight by the
fact that the latter weakens at the moment of success; the former is

The next of his letters is a mingling of the comic and the fantastic,
very special to G.K.C.

   11, Paternoster Buildings
   (postmarked Sept. 29, 1899.)

   . . . I fear, as you say, that my letters do not contain many
   practical details about myself: the letters are not very long to
   begin with, as I think it better to write something every day
   than a long letter when I have leisure: and when I have a little
   time to think in, I always think of the Kosmos first and the Ego
   afterwards. I admit, however, that you are not engaged to the
   Kosmos: dear me! what a time the Kosmos would have! All its
   Comets would have their hair brushed every morning. The Whirlwind
   would be adjured not to walk about when it was talking. The
   Oceans would be warmed with hot-water pipes. Not even the lowest
   forms of life would escape the crusade of tidiness: you would
   walk round and round the jellyfish, looking for a place to put in

   Under these circumstances, then, I cannot but regard it as
   fortunate that you are only engaged to your obedient Microcosm: a
   biped inheriting some of the traits of his mother, the Kosmos, its
   untidiness, its largeness, its irritating imperfection and its
   profound and hearty intention to go on existing as long as it
   possibly can.

   I can understand what you mean about wanting details about me, for
   I want just the same about you. You need only tell me "I went down
   the street to a pillar-box," I shall know that you did it in a
   manner, blindingly, staggeringly, crazily beautiful. It is quite
   true, as you say, that I am a person wearing _certain_ clothes with a
   _certain_ kind of hair. I cannot get rid of the impression that there
   is something scorchingly sarcastic about the underlining in this
   passage. . . .

   . . . as to what I do every day: it depends on which way you want
   it narrated: what we all say it is, or what it really is.

   What we all say happens every day is this: I wake up: dress myself,
   eat bacon and bread and coffee for breakfast: walk up to High St.
   Station, take a fourpenny ticket for Blackfriars, read the Chronicle
   in the train, arrive at 11, Paternoster Buildings: read a MS called
   "The Lepers" (light comedy reading) and another called "The
   Preparation of Ryerson Embury"--you know the style--till 2 o'clock.
   Go out to lunch, have--(but here perhaps it would be safer to become
   vague), come back, work till six, take my hat and walking-stick and
   come home: have dinner at home, write the Novel till 11, then write
   to you and go to bed. That is what, we in our dreamy, deluded way,
   really imagine is the thing that happens. What really happens (but
   hist! are we observed?) is as follows.

   Out of the starless night of the Uncreated, that was before the
   stars, a soul begins to grope back to light. It gropes its way
   through strange, half-lighted chambers of Dreams, where in a brown
   and gold twilight, it sees many things that are dimly significant,
   true stories twisted into new and amazing shapes, human beings whom
   it knew long ago, sitting at the windows by dark sunsets, or talking
   in dim meadows. But the awful invading Light grows stronger in the
   dreams, till the soul in one last struggle, plunges into a body, as
   into a house and wakes up within it. Then he rises and finds himself
   in a wonderful vast world of white light and clear, frankly coloured
   shapes, an inheritor of a million stars. On enquiry he is informed
   that his name is Gilbert Keith Chesterton. This amuses him.

   He goes through a number of extraordinary and fantastic rituals;
   which the pompous elfland he has entered demands. The first is that
   he shall get inside a house of clothing, a tower of wool and flax;
   that he shall put on this foolish armour solemnly, one piece after
   another and each in its right place. The things called sleevelinks he
   attends to minutely. His hair he beats angrily with a bristly tool.
   For this is the Law. Downstairs a more monstrous ceremony attends him.

   He has to put things inside himself. He does so, being naturally
   polite. Nor can it be denied that a weird satisfaction follows. He
   takes a sword in his hand (for what may not befall him in so strange
   a country!) and goes forth: he finds a hole in the wall, a little
   cave wherein sits One who can give him the charm that rules the horse
   of water and fire. He finds an opening and descends into the bowels
   of the earth. Down, among the roots of the Eternal hills, he finds a
   sunless temple wherein he prays. And in the centre of it he finds a
   lighted temple in which he enters. Then there are noises as of an
   earthquake and smoke and fire in the darkness: and when he opens the
   door again he is in another temple, out of which he climbs into
   another world, leagues and leagues away. And when he asks the meaning
   of the vision, they talk gibberish and say, "It is a train."

   So the day goes, full of eerie publishers and elfin clerks, till he
   returns and again puts things inside him, and then sits down and
   makes men in his own head and writes down all that they said and did.
   And last of all comes the real life itself. For half-an-hour he
   writes words upon a scrap of paper, words that are not picked and
   chosen like those that he has used to parry the strange talk of the
   folk all day, but words in which the soul's blood pours out, like the
   body's blood from a wound. He writes secretly this mad diary, all his
   passion and longing, all his queer religion, his dark and dreadful
   gratitude to God, his idle allegories, the tales that tell themselves
   in his head; the joy that comes on him sometimes (he cannot help it!)
   at the sacred intoxication of existence: the million faults of
   idleness and recklessness and the one virtue of the unconquered
   adoration of goodness, that dark virtue that every man has, and hides
   deeper than all his vices--he writes all this down as he is writing
   it now. And he knows that if he sticks it down and puts a stamp on it
   and drops it into the mouth of a little red goblin at the corner of
   the street--he knows that all this wild soliloquy will be poured into
   the soul of one wise and beautiful lady sitting far away beyond seas
   and rivers and cities, under the shadow of an alien Cathedral. . . .
   This is not all so irrelevant as you may think. It was this line of
   feeling that taught me, an utter Rationalist as far as dogma goes,
   the lesson of the entire Spirituality of things--an opinion that
   nothing has ever shattered since. I can't express myself on the
   point, nobody can. But it is _only_ the spirituality of things that
   we are sure of. That the eyes in your face are eyes I do not know:
   they may have other names and uses. I know that they are _good_ or
   beautiful, or rather spiritual. I do not know on what principle the
   Universe is run, I know or feel that it is _good_ or spiritual. I do
   not know what Gertrude's death was--I know that it was beautiful, for
   I saw it. We do not feel that it is so beautiful now--why? Because we
   do not see it now. What we see now is her absence: but her Death is
   not her absence, but her Presence somewhere else. That is what we
   _knew_ was beautiful, as long as we could see it. Do not be
   frightened, dearest, by the slow inevitable laws of human nature, we
   shall climb back into the mountain of vision: we shall be able to use
   the word, with the accent of Whitman. "Disembodied, triumphant, dead."

In the _Notebook_ he was writing:

   There is a heart within a distant town
   Who loves me more than treasure or renown
   Think you it strange and wear it as a crown.

   Is not the marvel here; that since the kiss
   And dizzy glories of that blinding bliss
   One grief has ever touched me after this.

We see Gilbert in the next two letters more concerned about a grand
dinner of the J.D.C. than about his future fame and fortune. In the
second he mentions almost casually that he is leaving Fisher Unwin.
From now on he was to live by his pen.

   11 Warwick Gardens, W.
   Tuesday Night. 3rd Oct. 1899.

   . . . Nothing very astonishing has happened yet, though many
   astonishing things will happen soon. The Final perfection of Humanity
   I expect shortly. The _Speaker_ for this week--the first of the _New
   Speaker_, is coming out soon, and may contain something of mine though
   I cannot be quite sure. A rush of the Boers on Natal, strategically
   quite possibly successful, is anticipated by politicians. The rising
   of the sun tomorrow morning is predicted by astronomers. My father
   again is engaged in the crucial correspondence with Fisher Unwin, at
   least it has begun by T.F.U. stating his proposed terms--a rise of
   5/--from October, another rise possible but undefined in January, 10
   per cent royalty for the Paris book and expenses for a fortnight in
   Paris. These, as I got my father to heartily agree, are vitiated to
   the bone as terms by the absence of any assurance that I shall not
   have to write "Paris," for which I am really paid nothing, _outside_
   the hours of work for which I am paid 25/--. In short, the net result
   would be that instead of gaining more liberty to rise in the literary
   world, I should be selling the small liberty of rising that I have
   now for five more shillings. This my father is declining and asking
   for a better settlement. The diplomacy is worrying, yet I enjoy it: I
   feel like Mr. Chamberlain on the eve of war. I would stop with T.F.U.
   for £100 a year--but not for less. Which means, I think, that I shall
   not stop at all.

   But all these revolutions, literary, financial and political fade
   into insignificance compared with the one really tremendous event of
   this week. It will take place on Saturday next. The sun will stand
   still upon Leicester Square and the Moon on the Valley of Wardour St.
   For then will assemble the Grand Commemorative Meeting of the Junior
   Debating Club. The Secretary, Mr. L.R.F. Oldershaw, will select a
   restaurant, make arrangements and issue the proclamations, or, to use
   the venerable old Club phrase "the writs." When this gorgeous
   function is over, you must expect a colossal letter. Everyone of the
   old Brotherhood, scattered over many cities and callings, has hailed
   the invitation, and is coming, with the exception of Bentley, who
   will send a sensational telegram from Paris. The fun is expected to
   be fast and furious, the undercurrent of emotion (twelve years old)
   is not likely to be much disguised. As I say, I will write you a
   sumptuous description of it; it is somewhat your due, for the thing
   is, and always will be, one of the main strands of my life. . . .

   None can say what will occur. It is one of those occasions when
   Englishmen are not much like the pictures of them in Continental
   satires . . . there is more in this old affair of ours than possibly
   meets the eye. It is a thing that has left its roots deep in the
   hearts of twelve strangely different men. . . . And now that seven of
   us have found the New Life that can only be found in Woman, it would
   be mean indeed not to turn back and thank the old. . . .

   11, Warwick Gardens, W.

   . . . This is the colossal letter. I trust you will excuse me if
   the paper is conceived on a similar scale of Babylonian immensity. I
   cannot make out exactly whether I did or did not post a letter I
   wrote to you on Saturday. If I did not, I apologise for missing the
   day. If I did, you will know by this time one or two facts that may
   interest you, the chief of which is that I am certainly leaving
   Fisher Unwin, with much mutual courtesy and goodwill.

   This fact may interest you, I repeat: at this moment I am not sure
   whether it interests me. For my head, to say nothing of another
   organ, is filled with the thundering cheers and songs of the dinner
   on Saturday night. It was, I may say without hesitation, a breathless
   success. Cholmeley, who must be experienced being both a
   schoolmaster, a diner out and a clever man, told me he had never in
   his life heard eleven better speeches. I quite agree with him, merely
   adding his own. Everyone was amusing and what is much better,
   singularly characteristic. Will you forgive me, dearest, if I reel
   off to the only soul that can be trusted to enjoy my enjoyment, a
   kind of report of the meeting? It will revivify my own memories. And
   one thing at least that I said in my speech I thoroughly believed
   in--"if there is any prayer I should be inclined to make it is that I
   should forget nothing in my life."

   The proceedings opened with dinner. The illustrated menus were wildly
   appreciated: every person got all the rest to sign on the menu and
   then took it away as a memento. Then the telegrams from Kruger,
   Chamberlain, Dreyfus and George Meredith were read. Then I proposed
   the toast of the Queen. I merely said that nothing could ever be
   alleged against the Queen, except the fact that she is not a member
   of the J.D.C. and that I thought it spoke well for the chivalry of
   Englishmen that with this fact she had never been publicly taunted. I
   said I knew that the virtues of Queen Victoria had become somewhat
   platitudinous, but I thought it was a fortunate country in which the
   virtues of its powerful ones are platitudes. The toast was then
   drunk. . . .

   After a pause and a little conversation, I called upon Lawrence
   Solomon to propose the toast of "The School." He was very amusing
   indeed. Most of his speech would not be very comprehensible to an
   outsider for it largely consisted of an ingenious dove-tailing of the
   sentences in the Latin and Greek Arnold. I shall never forget the
   lucid and precise enunciation with which he delivered the idiotic
   sentences in those works, more especially where he said, "such a
   course would be more agreeable to Mr. Cholmeley and I would rather
   gratify such a man as he than see the King of the Persians."

   Cholmeley, amid roars of welcome, rose to respond. I think I must
   have told you in a former letter that Cholmeley is a former
   classmaster of ours, a former house-master of Bentley's, and one of
   the nicest men at St. Paul's. We invited him as the only visitor. He
   said a great deal that was very amusing, mostly a commentary on
   Solomon's remarks about the Latin Arnold. One remark he made was that
   he possessed one particular Latin Arnold, formerly the property of
   the President, which he had withdrawn from him "with every expression
   of contumely"--because it was drawn all over with devils. He made
   some very sound remarks about the Club as an answer to the common
   charge against St. Paul's School that it was aridly scholastic,
   without spontaneous growth in culture or sentiment.

   Then Fordham proposed "The Ladies." He was killing. Fordham is a
   personality whom I think you do not know. He is one of the most
   profoundly humourous men I ever knew, but his humour is more thickly
   coated on him, so to speak, than Bentley or Oldershaw, i.e., it is
   much more difficult to make him serious. He is one of the most
   fascinating "typical Englishmen" I ever knew: strong, generous,
   flippant on principle, rowdy by physical inspiration, successful,
   popular, married--a man to discharge all the normal functions of life
   well. But his most entertaining gift which he displayed truly
   sumptuously on this occasion is a wonderful gift of burlesque and
   stereotyped rhetoric. With melodramatic gestures he drew attention to
   the torrents of the President's blood pouring "from the wound of the
   tiny god." Amid sympathetic demonstration he protested against the
   pathos of the toast, "the conquered on the field of battle toasting
   the conquerors." As the only married member of the Club he ventured
   to give us some advice on (A) Food, (B) Education, (C) Intercourse.
   He sat down in a pure whirlwind of folly, without saying a word about
   the feelings that were in all hearts, including his own, just then.
   But I was delighted to find that marriage had not taken away an inch
   of his incurable silliness.

   Nothing could be a greater contrast than the few graceful and
   dignified but very restrained words in which Bertram responded to
   the toast. He is not a man who cares to make fun of women, however

   Then came Langdon-Davies, whom I called upon to propose "The Club."
   His was perhaps the most interesting case of all. When I knew
   Langdon-Davies in the Junior Debating Club, he was one of the most
   frivolous young men I ever knew. . . . But knowing that he was a good
   speaker in a light style, and had been President of the Cambridge
   Union, I put him down to propose the Club, thinking that we should
   have enough serious speaking and would be well to err on the side of

   Langdon-Davies got up and proceeded to deliver a speech that
   made me jump. It was, I thought, the best speech of the evening:
   but I am sure it was the most serious, the most sympathetic and a
   long way the most frankly emotional.

   He said that the Club was not now a club in the strict sense. It
   was two things preeminently and everlastingly--a memory and an
   influence. He spoke with a singular sort of subdued vividness of the
   influence the Club had had on him in boyhood. He then turned to the
   history of the Club. And here, my dearest lady, I am pained to have
   to report that he launched suddenly and dramatically into a most
   extraordinary, and apparently quite sincere eulogium upon myself and
   the influence I had on my schoolfellows. I will not repeat his
   words--I did not believe them, but they took me by surprise and shook
   me somewhat. Mr. B. N. Langdon-Davies, I may remark, and yourself,
   are the only persons who have ever employed the word "genius" in
   connection with me. I trust it will not occur again.

   I replied. My speech was a medley, but it appeared very successful.
   I discussed largely the absence of any successor to the J.D.C. I
   described how I watched the boys leaving school today--a solitary
   figure, clad in the latest fashion, moodily pacing the Hammersmith
   Road--and asked myself "where among these is the girlish gush of a
   Bentley--the passionate volubility of a Vernède, the half-ethereal
   shyness of a Fordham?!!" I admitted that we had had misfortunes, one
   of us had a serious illness, another had had a very good story in the
   Strand Magazine: but I thought that a debating club of 12 members
   that had given three presidents to the University Unions, had not
   done badly. The rest was sentimental. Then began a most extraordinary
   game of battledore and shuttlecock. Vernède proposed the Secretary,
   Mr. Oldershaw. Mr. Oldershaw, instead of replying properly, proposed
   Mr. Bentley and the absent members. Waldo responded for these or
   rather instead of responding proposed Mr. Maurice Solomon. Mr.
   Maurice Solomon instead of responding proposed Mr. Salter. The latter
   was the only one who had not spoken and on rising he explained his
   reasons for refusing. He had not been in the same room with Mr.
   Cholmeley, he said, since he had sat five years ago in the Lower
   Fourth and Mr. Cholmeley had told him that he talked too much. He had
   no desire on his first reappearance to create in Mr. Cholmeley's mind
   the idea that he had been at it ever since.

   After this we passed on to singing and nearly brought down the roof
   of Pinoli's restaurant. Cholmeley, the awful being of whose classic
   taste in Greek iambics I once stood in awe, sang with great feeling a
   fragment of lyric literature of which the following was, as far as I
   remember, the refrain:

   "Singing Chooral-i-chooral-i-tiddity
   And chanting Chooral-i-chooral-i-dititty
   Not forgetting--chooral-i-chooral-i-day--"

   Vernède sang a Sussex pothouse chorus in an indolent and refined
   way which was exquisitely incongruous: Waldo and Langdon-Davies also
   sang. I recited an Ode which I had written for the occasion and
   Lucian recited one of Bentley's poems that came out in an Oxford
   magazine. Then we sang the Anthem* of the J.D.C., of which the words
   are, "I am a Member--I'm a Member--Member of the J.D.C. I belong to
   it forever--don't you wish that you were me."

[* It was sung to the tune of "Clementine."]

   Then we paid the bill. Then we borrowed each other's arms and legs
   in an inextricable tangle and sang "Auld Lang Syne." Then we broke up.

   There now. Five mortal pages of writing and nothing about you in
   it. How relieved you must be, wearied out with allusions to your hair
   and your soul and your clothes and your eyes. And yet it has been
   every word of it about you really. I like to make my past vivid to
   you, especially this past, not only because it was on the whole, a
   fine, healthy, foolish, manly, enthusiastic, idiotic past, with the
   very soul of youth in it. Not only because I am a victim of the
   prejudice, common I trust to all mankind, that no one ever had such
   friends as I had. . . .

Readers of the _Autobiography_ will remember that many many years
later, at the celebration of Hilaire Belloc's sixtieth birthday, the
guests threw the ball to one another in just this same fashion.
Chesterton had by then so far forgotten this earlier occasion that he
spoke of the Belloc birthday party as the only dinner in his life at
which every diner made a speech.

Two more extracts from his letters must be given, showing the efforts
made by Frances to look after Gilbert, and his reactions. One of his
friends remarked that Gilbert's life was unique in that, never having
left home for a boarding school or University, he passed from the
care of his mother to the care of his wife. I think too that the
degree of his physical helplessness affected all who came near him
with the feeling that while he might lead them where he would
intellectually, it was their task to look after a body that would
otherwise be wholly neglected.

   The old religionists used to talk about a man being "a fool for
   Christ's sake"--certainly I have been a blithering fool for your
   sake. I went to see the doctor, as you requested. He asked me what he
   could do for me. I told him I hadn't the least idea, but people
   thought my cold had been going on long enough. He said, "I've no
   doubt it has." He then, to afford some relief to the idiotic futility
   of the situation, wrote me a prescription, which I read on my way up
   to business, weeping over the pathetic parts and laughing heartily at
   the funny ones. I have since had some of it. It tastes pretty aimless.

   I cannot remember for certain whether I mentioned in my letter that
   I had had an invitation including yourself, from my Aunt Kate for
   this Friday. As you do not refer to it, I expect I didn't--so I wrote
   to her giving both our thanks and explaining the state of affairs.
   "All is over," I said, "between that lady and myself. Do not name her
   to me, lest the hideous word 'Woman' should blind me to the seraphic
   word 'Aunt.' My life is a howling waste--but what matter? Ha! Ha!
   Ha!" I cannot remember my exact words, of course. . . .

   . . . I am a revolting object. My hair is a matted chaos spread all
   over the floor, my beard is like a hard broom. My necktie is on the
   wrong way up: my bootlaces trail half-way down Fleet St. Why not?
   When one's attempts at reformation are "not much believed in" what
   other course is open but a contemptuous relapse into liberty?

   Your last letter makes me much happier. I put great faith in the
   healing power of the great winds and the sun. "Nature," as Walt
   Whitman says, "and her primal sanities." Mrs. S . . . , also, is a
   primal sanity. It is not, I believe, considered complimentary, in a
   common way, to approach an attractive lady and say pleasantly, "You
   are thousands of years old." Or, "You seem to me as old as the
   mountains." Therefore I do not say it. But I always feel that anyone
   beautiful and strong is really old--for the really old things are not
   decrepit: decrepit things are dying early. The Roman Empire was
   decrepit. A sunrise cloud is old.

   So I think there are some people, who even in their youth, seem to
   have existed always: they bear the mark of the elemental things: the
   things that recur; they are as old as springtime, as old as
   daybreak--as old as Youth.


Who is G.K.C.?

THE BOER WAR--and the whole country enthusiastically behind it. The
Liberal Party as a whole went with the Conservatives. The leading
Fabians--Bernard Shaw, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb, Hubert Bland, Cecil
Chesterton and the "semi-detached Fabian" H. G. Wells--were likewise
for the war. Only a tiny minority remained in opposition, most of
whom were pacifists or cranks of one kind or another. To the sane
minority of this minority Gilbert found himself belonging. It is
something of a tribute to the national feeling at such a moment of
tension that (as an American has noted) "Chesterton was the one
British writer, utterly unknown before, who built up a great
reputation, and it was gained, not through nationalistic support, but
through determined and persistent opposition to British policy."*

[* _Chesterton_, by Cyril Clemens, p. 20.]

In his _Daily News_ column a correspondent later asked him to define
his position. Chesterton replied, "The unreasonable patriot is one
who sees the faults of his fatherland with an eye which is clearer
and more merciless than any eye of hatred, the eye of an irrational
and irrevocable love." His attitude sprang, he claimed, not from
defect but from excess of patriotism.

It is hard to imagine anything that would clarify better the ideas of
a strong mind than finding itself in opposition. This opposition
began at home, in argument with Cecil. Later the two brothers would
agree about most main issues, but now Cecil was a Tory democrat,
Gilbert a pro-Boer, and what was known as a little Englander. The tie
between the two brothers was very close. As the "Innocent Child"
developed into the combative companion, there is no doubt that he
proportionately affected Gilbert. All their friends talk of the
endless amicable arguments through which both grew. Conrad Noel
remembers parties at Warwick Gardens during the Boer War at which the
two brothers "would walk up and down like the two pistons of an
engine" to the disorganisation of the company and the dismay of their
parents. It was at this time that Frances, engaged to a deeply
devoted Gilbert, found even that devotion insufficient to pry him and
Cecil apart when an argument had got well under way.

"I must go home, Gilbert. I shall miss my train."

Usually he would have sprung to accompany her, but now she must miss
many trains before the brothers could be separated.

Frances told me that when they were at the seaside the landlady would
sometimes clear away breakfast, leaving the brothers arguing, come to
set lunch and later set dinner while still they argued. They had come
to the seaside but they never saw the sea.

Once Frances was staying with them at a house they had taken by the
sea. Her room was next to Cecil's and she could not sleep for the
noise of the discussion that went on hour after hour. About one in
the morning she rapped on the wall and said, "O Cecil, do send
Gilbert to bed." A brief silence followed, and then the remark, in a
rather abashed voice, "There's no one here." Cecil had been arguing
with himself. Gilbert too argued with himself for the stand he was
taking was a hard one. Mr. Belloc has told me that he felt Gilbert
suffered at any word against England, that his patriotism was
passionate. And now he had himself to say that he believed his
country to be in the wrong. To admit it to himself, to state it to

This autumn of 1899 G.K. began to write for the _Speaker_. The weekly
of this title had long been in a languishing condition when it was
taken over by a group of young Liberals of very marked views. Hammond
became editor and Philip Comyns Carr sub-editor. Sir John Simon was
among the group for a short while, but he soon told one of them that
he feared close association with the _Speaker_ might injure his
career. F. Y. Eccles was in charge of the review department. He is
able to date the start of what was known as the "new" _Speaker_ with
great exactitude, for when the first number was going to press the
ultimatum had been sent to Kruger and the editors hesitated as to
whether they should take the risk of announcing that it was war in
South Africa. They decided against, but before their second number
appeared war had been declared.

My difficulty in getting a picture of the first meeting of Belloc and
Chesterton illustrates the problem of human testimony and the limits
of that problem. For I imagine a scripture critic, old style, would
end by concluding that the men never met at all.

F. Y. Eccles, E. C. Bentley and Lucian Oldershaw all claim to have
made the momentous introduction, Mr. Eccles adding that it took place
at the office of the _Speaker_, while Gilbert himself has described
the meeting twice: once in the street, once in a restaurant. Belloc
remembers the introduction as made in the year 1900 by Lucian
Oldershaw, who was living at the time with Hammond. Mr. Oldershaw
usually has the accuracy of the hero-worshipper and upon this matter
he adds several amusing details. For some time he had been trying to
get the group on the _Speaker_ to read Chesterton and had in vain
taken several articles to the office. Mr. Eccles declared the
handwriting was that of a Jew and he prejudiced Belloc, says
Oldershaw, against reading "anything written by my Jew friend."

But when at last they did meet, Belloc "opened the conversation by
saying in his most pontifical manner, 'Chesterton, you wr-r-ite very
well.'" Chesterton was then 26, Belloc four years older. It was at
the Mont Blanc, a restaurant in Gerrard St., Soho, and the meeting
was celebrated with a bottle of Moulin au Vent.

The first description given by Gilbert himself is at once earlier and
more vivid than the better known one in the _Autobiography_.

   When I first met Belloc he remarked to the friend who introduced us
   that he was in low spirits. His low spirits were and are much more
   uproarious and enlivening than anybody else's high spirits. He talked
   into the night, and left behind in it a glowing track of good things.
   When I have said that I mean things that are good, and certainly not
   merely _bons mots_, I have said all that can be said in the most
   serious aspect about the man who has made the greatest fight for good
   things of all the men of my time.

   We met between a little Soho paper shop and a little Soho
   restaurant; his arms and pockets were stuffed with French Nationalist
   and French Atheist newspapers. He wore a straw hat shading his eyes,
   which are like a sailor's, and emphasizing his Napoleonic chin. . . .

   The little restaurant to which we went had already become a haunt
   for three or four of us who held strong but unfashionable views about
   the South African War, which was then in its earliest prestige. Most
   of us were writing on the _Speaker_. . . .

   . . . What he brought into our dream was this Roman appetite for
   reality and for reason in action, and when he came into the door
   there entered with him the smell of danger.*

[* Introduction to: _Hilaire Belloc: The Man and His Work_ by C. C.
Mandell and E. Shanks, 1916.]

"It was from that dingy little Soho café," Chesterton writes in the
_Autobiography_, "that there emerged the quadruped, the twiformed
monster Mr. Shaw has nicknamed the Chesterbelloc."

Listening to Belloc is intoxicating. I have heard many brilliant
talkers, but none to whom that word can so justly be applied. He goes
to your head, he takes you off your feet, he leaves you breathless,
he can convince you of anything. My mother and brother both counted
it as one of the great experiences of their lives to have dined with
Belloc in a small Paris Restaurant (Aux Vendanges de Bourgogne) and
then to have walked with him the streets of that glorious city while
he discoursed of its past. Imagination staggers before the picture of
a Belloc in his full youth and vigour in a group fitted to strike
from him his brightest fire at a moment big with issues for the
world's future.

In Chesterton's _Autobiography_ a chapter is devoted to the "Portrait
of A Friend," while Belloc in turn has said something of Chesterton
in obituary notices and also in a brief study of his position in
English literature. None of these documents give much notion of the
intellectual flame struck out by one mind against the other. It has
often been asked how much Belloc influenced Chesterton.

The best test of an influence in a writer's life is to compare what
he wrote before with what he wrote after he was first subjected to
it. It is easy to apply this test to Belloc's influence on G.K.C.
because of the mass we still have of his boyhood writings. In pure
literature, in philosophy and theology he remains untouched by the
faintest change. Pages from the Notebook could be woven into
_Orthodoxy_, essays from _The Debater_ introduced into _The Victorian
Age in Literature_, and it would look simply like buds and flowers on
the same bush. Belloc has characterized himself as ignorant of
English literature and says he learnt from Chesterton most of what he
knows of it, while there is no doubt Chesterton was by far the
greater philosopher.

With politics, sociology, and history (and the relation of religion
to all three) it is different. Belloc himself told me he thought the
chief thing he had done for Chesterton when they first met was to
open his eyes to reality--Chesterton had been unusually young for his
twenty-six years and unusually simple in regard to the political
scene. He was in fact the young man he himself was later to describe
as knowing all about politics and nothing about politicians. The four
years between the two men seemed greater than it was, partly because
of Belloc's more varied experience of life--French military training,
life at Oxford, wide travel and an early marriage.

Belloc, then, could teach Chesterton a certain realism about
politics--which meant a certain cynicism about politicians. Far more
valuable, however, was what Belloc had to give him in sociology. We
have seen that G.K. was already dissatisfied with Socialism before he
met Belloc; it may be that by his consideration of the nature of man
he would later have reached the positions so individually set out in
_What's Wrong with the World_--but this can only remain a theoretical
question. For Belloc did actually at this date answer the
sociological question that Chesterton at this date was putting:
answered it brilliantly and answered it truly. Every test that G.K.
could later apply--of profound human reality, of truth divinely
revealed--convinced him that the answer was true.

He had, he has told us, been a Socialist because it was so horrible
not to be one, but he now learned of the historical Christian
alternative--equally opposed to Socialism and to Capitalism--
well-distributed property. This had worked in the past, was still
working in many European countries, could be made to work again in
England. The present trend appeared to Belloc to be towards the
Servile State, and in the book with this title and a second book _The
Restoration of Property_ he later developed his sociology. After this
first meeting, two powerful and very different minds would
reciprocally influence one another. An admirer of both told me that
he thought Chesterton got the idea of small property from Belloc but
gave Belloc a fuller realization of the position of the family. One
difference between them is that Belloc writes sociology as a textbook
while Chesterton writes it as a human document. All the wealth of
imagination that Belloc pours into _The Path to Rome_ or _The Four
Men_ he sternly excludes from the Servile State. The poet, traveller,
essayist is one man, the sociologist another.

The third field of influence was history. Here Belloc did Chesterton
two great services--he restored the proportion of English history,
and he put England back into its context. Since the Reformation,
English history had been written with all the stress on the
Protestant period. Lingard had written earlier but had not been
popularized and certainly would not be used at St. Paul's School. And
even Lingard had laid little stress on the social effects of the
Reformation. Mr. Hammond's contemporary work on English social
history fitted into Belloc's more vivid if less documented
vision--none of this could be disregarded by later writers.

Belloc, too, restored that earlier England to the Christendom to
which it belonged. The England of Macaulay or of Green had, like Mr.
Mantalini's dowager, either no outline or a "demned outline" for it
was cut out of a larger map. And Chesterton was always seeking an
outline of history.

To get England back into the context of Christendom is a great thing:
just how great must depend upon how rightly Christendom is conceived.
One cannot always escape the feeling that Belloc conceives it too
narrowly. His famous phrase "The Faith is Europe and Europe is the
Faith" omits too much--the East out of which Christianity came; the
new worlds into which Europe has flowed. Belloc of course knows these
things and has often said them. It is rather a question of emphasis,
of how things loom in the mind when judgments have to be made. In
that sense he does tend to narrow the Faith to Europe: in exactly the
same sense he does tend to narrow Europe to France. Born in France of
a French father, educated in England, Belloc chose his mother's
nationality, chose to be English; but his Creator had chosen
differently, and there is not much a man can do in competition with
his Creator. I do not for a moment suggest that Belloc, having chosen
to be English, is conscious of anything but loyalty to the country of
his adoption. The thing lies far below the mind's conscious
movements. Belloc thinks of himself as an Englishman with a patriotic
duty to criticise his country, but his feelings are not really those
of an Englishman. Once at least he recognised this when he wrote the

England to me that never have malingered,
Nor spoken falsely, nor your flattery used,
_Nor even in my rightful garden lingered_--: *
What have you not refused?

[* Italics mine.]

And just as France was Belloc's rightful garden so England was
Chesterton's. When first they talked of the Church he told Belloc
that he wanted the example of "someone entirely English who should
none the less have come in." When criticising his country his voice
has the note of pain that only love can give. Belloc saw him as
intensely national "English of the English . . . a mirror of
England . . . he writes with an English accent."

It is of some interest that after meeting Belloc Gilbert added notes
to two early poems, each note reflecting a judgment of Belloc's--on
the Dreyfus case which Belloc saw as all French Catholics saw it: on
Anglo-American relations which Belloc saw as most Latin Europeans
would see it.

(1) The first was the poem entitled "To a Certain Nation"--addressed
to France in commentary on the Dreyfus case of 1899 which must be
briefly explained for those who are too young to remember the
excitement it caused. Captain Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French
army, had been found guilty of treachery and sent to Devil's Island.
All France was divided into two camps on the question of his guilt or
innocence. In general, Catholics and what we should call the Right
were all for his guilt; atheists, anti-clericals and believers in the
Republic were for his innocence. Passions were roused to fury on both
sides. English opinion was almost entirely for his innocence. I was a
small girl at the time and I remember that my brother and I amused
ourselves by crying _Vive Dreyfus_, on all possible and impossible
occasions, for the annoyance of our pious French governess. I
remember also that our parents were startled by the vehemence of the
French Catholic paper _La Croix_ from which our governess imbibed her
views. Ultimately the case was reopened, and Dreyfus, after years of
horror on Devil's Island, found not guilty and restored to his rank
in the army. But there are, I know, Catholic Frenchmen alive today
who refuse to believe in his innocence and hold that the whole thing
was a Jewish-Masonic plot that hampered the French espionage service
and nearly lost us the war of 1914.

In the first edition of _The Wild Knight_, written before the meeting
with Belloc, Gilbert, like any other English Liberal, had assumed
Dreyfus' innocence and in the poem "To a Certain Nation" had
reproached the France of the Revolution, the France he had loved, as
unworthy of herself.

   . . . and we
   Who knew thee once, we have a right to weep.

The Note in the second edition shows him as now undecided
about Dreyfus' guilt and concludes: "There may have been a fog
of injustice in the French courts; I know that there was a fog
of injustice in the English newspapers."

(2) In "An Alliance" Chesterton had gloried in "the blood of Hengist"
and hymned an Anglo-American alliance with the enthusiasm of a young
Republican who took for granted the links of language and of origin
that might draw together two great countries into something

   In change, eclipse, and peril
   Under the whole world's scorn,
   By blood and death and darkness
   The Saxon peace is sworn;
   That all our fruit be gathered
   And all our race take hands,
   And the sea be a Saxon river
   That runs through Saxon lands.

But in the Note to the second edition, he says:

   In the matter of the "Anglo-American Alliance" I have come to see
   that our hopes of brotherhood with America are the same in kind as
   our hopes of brotherhood with any other of the great independent
   nations of Christendom. And a very small study of history was
   sufficient to show me that the American Nation, which is a hundred
   years old, is at least fifty years older than the Anglo-Saxon race.*

[* Collected Poems, p. 318.]

The poem was of course only a boyish expression of a boyish dream;
like all dreams, like all boyhood dreams especially, it omitted too
much; yet it contained a thought that might well have borne rich
fruit in Gilbert's Catholic life.

My mother told me once that when after three years' study of Queen
Elizabeth's character she came to a different conclusion from Belloc,
she found it almost impossible to resist his power and hold on to her
own view. It must be realised that Chesterton actually preferred the
attitude of a disciple. A mutual friend has told me that Chesterton
listened to Belloc all the time and said very little himself. In
matters historical where he felt his own ignorance, Gilbert's
tendency was simply to make an act of faith in Belloc.

On nothing were the two men more healthily in accord than on the Boer
War. In an interesting study of Belloc, prefixed to a French
translation of _Contemporary England_, F. Y. Eccles explains how he
and most of the _Speaker_ group differed from the pacifist pro-Boers,
who hated the South African war because they hated all wars. The
young Liberals on the _Speaker_ were not pacifists. They hated the
war because they thought it would harm England--harm her morally--to
be fighting for an unjust cause, and even materially to be shedding
the blood of her sons and pouring out her wealth at the bidding of a
handful of alien financiers. Thus far Gilbert was among one group
with whom he was in fullest sympathy. But I think he went further.
Mr. Eccles told me that most of the _Speaker_ group had no sympathy
with the Boers. Gilbert had. He thought of them as human beings who
might well have been farmers of Sussex or of Kent, something of an
older civilization, resisting money power and imperialism and
perishing thereby.

Few, indeed, of the Liberal Party held Chesterton's ideal--an England
territorially small, spiritually great. The _Speaker_ was struggling
against odds: it was the voice of a tiny group. To Gilbert it seemed
that this mattered nothing so long as that little group held to their
great ideas, so long as the paper represented not merely a group or a
party but the Liberal Idea. In an unfinished letter to Hammond is to
be found this idea as he saw it and his dawning disappointment even
with the paper that most nearly stood for it:

   I am just about to commit a serious impertinence. I believe however
   that you will excuse it because it is about the paper and I know
   there is not another paper dead or alive for which I would take the
   trouble or run the risk of offence.

   I am hearing on all sides the _Speaker_ complained of by the very
   people who should be and would be (if they could) its enthusiastic
   supporters and I cannot altogether deny the truth of their
   objections, though I am glad to notice both in them and in myself the
   fact that those objections are tacitly based on the assumption of the
   _Speaker_ having an aim and standard higher than other papers. If the
   _Speaker_ were a mere party rag like "Judy" or "The Times," it would be
   only remarkable for moderation, but to us who have built hopes on it
   as the pioneer of a younger and larger political spirit it is
   difficult to be silent when we find it, as it seems to us, poisoned
   with that spirit of ferocious triviality which is the spirit of
   Birmingham eloquence, and with that evil instinct which has
   disintegrated the Irish party, the instinct for hating the man who
   differs from you slightly, more than the man who differs from you

   Of two successive numbers during the stress of the fight (a fight
   in which we had first to unite our army and then to use it) a
   considerable portion was devoted, first to sneering at "The Daily
   News" and then to sneering at "The Westminster Gazette." . . .

   There is a sentence in the Book of Proverbs which expresses the
   whole of my politics. "For the liberal man deviseth liberal things
   and by his liberality he shall stand." Now what I object to is
   sneering at "The Westminster" as a supporter of Chamberlain when
   everyone knows that it hardly lets a day pass without an ugly
   caricature of him. What I object to in this is that it is talking
   Brummagem--it is not "devising liberal things" but spiteful,
   superficial, illiberal things. It is claptrap and temporary
   deception of the "Patriotism before Politics" order. . . .

   To all this you will say there is an obvious answer. The _Speaker_
   is a party paper and does not profess to be otherwise. But here I am
   sure we are mistaking our mission. What the _Speaker_ is (I hope and
   believe) destined to do, is to renovate Liberalism, and though
   Liberalism (like every other party) is often conducted by claptrap,
   it has never been renovated by claptrap, but by great command of
   temper and the persistent exposition of persuasive and unanswerable
   truths. It is while we are in the desert that we have the vision: we
   being a minority, must be all philosophers: we must think for both
   parties in the State. It is no good our devoting ourselves to the
   flowers of mob oratory with no mob to address them to. We must, like
   the Free Traders, for instance, have discoveries, definite truths and
   endless patience in explaining them. We must be more than a political
   party or we shall cease to be one. Time and again in history victory
   has come to a little party with big ideas: but can anyone conceive
   anything with the mark of death more on its brow than a little party
   with little ideas?*

[* Undated, handwritten letter in a notebook.]

Such Liberalism was not perhaps of this world. It certainly was not
of the Liberal Party!

Gilbert argued much with himself during these years. He had come out
of his time of trial with firm faith in God and in man. But his
philosophy was still in the making, and he made it largely out of the
material supplied by ordinary London suburban society and by the
rather less usual society of cranks and enthusiasts so plentiful at
the end of the nineteenth century. He has written in the
_Autobiography_ of the artistic and dilettante groups where everyone
discussed religion and no one practised it, of the Christian
Socialists and other societies into which he and Cecil found their
way, and of some of the friendships they formed. Among these one of
the closest was with Conrad Noel who wrote in answer to my request
for his recollections:

   We met G.K.C. for the first time at the Stapleys' in Bloomsbury
   Square, at a series of meetings of the Christo-Theosophic Society. He
   was like a very big fish out of water; he was comparatively thin,
   however, in those days, nearly forty years ago. We had been much
   intrigued by the weekly contribution of an unknown writer to "The
   Speaker" and "The Nation"--brilliant work, and my wife and I,
   independently, came to the conclusion when we heard this young man
   speak that it must be he. The style was unmistakable.

   I thought of writing to him to congratulate him on his speech, but
   before I could do so, I got a letter from him, saying that he was
   coming to hear me in the same series in a week or so; it was thus we
   first became acquainted, and the acquaintance ripened into a warm
   friendship with us both. He and his brother Cecil were in and out of
   our flat in Paddington Green, where I was assistant curate. He was
   genial, bubbling over with jokes, at which he roared with laughter.

The question was becoming insistent: when would there be enough money
for Frances and Gilbert to get married?

In one letter Frances asks him what he thinks of Omar Khayyam. He
replies at great length, and concludes:

   You see the result of asking me for an opinion. I have written it
   very hurriedly: if I had paused I might make an essay of it.
   (Commercial Pig!) Never mind, sweetheart, that Essay might be a
   sauce-pan some day--or at any rate a cheap toast-rack.

Of his belief in God, in man, in goodness, as against the pessimist
outlook of the day, Gilbert, as we have seen, felt profound
certitude. That his outlook was one that held him back from many
fields of opportunity he was already partly conscious. A fragment of
a letter to Frances expresses this feeling.

   . . . I find I cannot possibly come tonight as my Canadian uncle
   keeps his last night in England in a sort of family party. And I
   abide by my father's house--said our Lady of the Snows.

   I have just had a note from Rex, asking me, with characteristic
   precision, if I can produce a play in the style of Maeterlinck by
   6.50 this afternoon, or words to that effect. The idea is full of
   humour. He remarks, as a matter of fact that there is just a remote
   chance of his getting the Stage Society to act my play of The Wild
   Knight. This opens to me a vista of quite new ambition. Why only at
   the Stage Society?--I see a visionary programme.

   The Wild Knight . . . . . . . . . . . . Mr. Charles Hawtree
   Captain Redfeather  . . . . . . . . . . Mr. Penley
   Olive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Miss Katie Seymour
   Priest  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sir Henry Irving
   Lord Orm  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mr. Arthur Roberts

   I am working and must get on with my work. I do not feel any
   despondency about it because I know it is good and worth doing. It is
   extraordinary how much more moral one is than one imagines. At school
   I never minded getting into a row if it were _really_ not my fault.
   Similarly, I have never cared a rap for rejections or criticisms,
   since I had got a point of view to express which I was certain held
   water. Some people think it holds water--on the brain. But I don't
   mind. Bless them.

   I am afraid, darling, that this doctrine of patience is hard on
   you. But really it's a grand thing to think oneself right. It's what
   this whole age is starving for. Something to suffer for and go mad
   and miserable over--that is the only luxury of the mind. I wish I
   were a convinced Pro-Boer and could stare down a howling mob. But I
   _am_ right about the Cosmos, and Schopenhauer and Co. are wrong. . . .

Two interesting points in this letter are the remark about wishing to
be a convinced Pro-Boer--which he certainly became--and the
suggestion of a possible performance of _The Wild Knight_. Perhaps
the letter was written before he had finally taken his stand (it has
no dating postmark), or perhaps it merely means that his convictions
on the cosmos are more absolute than on the war. As to _The Wild
Knight:_ it was never acted and its publication was made possible
only by the generosity of Gilbert's father. For a volume of comic
verse, _Greybeards at Play_, which appeared earlier in the same year
(1900), he could find a publisher, but serious poetry has never been
easy to launch.

The letter that follows has a more immediate bearing on their
own future:

   11, Warwick Gardens,
   Good Friday. 1900.

   . . . As you have tabulated your questions with such alarming
   precision I must really endeavour to answer them categorically.

   (1) How am I? I am in excellent health. I have an opaque cold in my
   head, cough tempestuously and am very deaf. But these things I count
   as mere specks showing up the general blaze of salubrity. I am
   getting steadily better and I don't mind how slowly. As for my
   spirits a cold never affects them: for I have plenty to do and think
   about indoors. One or two little literary schemes--trifles
   doubtless--claim my attention.

   (2) Am I going away at Easter? The sarcastic might think it a
   characteristic answer, but I can only reply that I had banished the
   matter from my mind, a vague problem of the remote future until you
   asked it: but since this is Easter and we are not gone away I suppose
   we are not going away.

   (3) I will meet you at Euston on Tuesday evening though hell itself
   should gape and bid me stop at home.

   (4) I am not sure whether a review on Crivelli's art is out this
   week: I am going to look.

   (5) Alas! I have not been to Nutt. There are good excuses, but they
   are not the real ones. I will write to him now. Yes: Now.

   (6) Does my hair want cutting? My hair seems pretty happy. You are
   the only person who seems to have any fixed theory on this. For all I
   know it may be at that fugitive perfection which has moved you to
   enthusiasm. Three minutes after this perfection, I understand, a
   horrible degeneration sets in: the hair becomes too long, the figure
   disreputable and profligate: and the individual is unrecognised by
   all his friends. It is he that wants cutting then, not his hair.

   (7) As to shirt-links, studs and laces, I glitter from head to foot
   with them.

   (8) I have had a few skirmishes with Knollys but not the general
   engagement. When this comes off, you shall have news from our
   correspondent. (Knollys was Frances's brother.)

   (9) I have got a really important job in reviewing--the Life of
   Ruskin for the _Speaker_. As I have precisely 73 theories about Ruskin
   it will be brilliant and condensed. I am also reviewing the Life of
   the Kendals, a book on the Renascence and one on Correggio for "The

   (10) How far is it to Babylon? Babylon I am firmly convinced is just
   round the corner: if one could be only certain which corner. This
   conviction is the salt of my life.

   (11) Really and truly I see no reason why we should not be married
   in April if not before. I have been making some money calculations
   with the kind assistance of Rex, and as far as I can see we could
   live in the country on quite a small amount of regular literary
   work. . .

   P.S. Forgot the last question.

   (12) Oddly enough, I was writing a poem. Will send it to you.

Gilbert's engagement had given him the impetus to earn more but he
was always entirely unpractical. His salary at Fisher Unwin's had
been negligible and he was not making much yet by the journalism
which was now his only source of income. The repeated promise to
"write to Nutt" is very characteristic. For Nutt was the manager of
the solitary publisher who was at the moment prepared to put a book
of Gilbert's on the market at his own risk!

Although they did not manage to get married this year, by the end of
it he was becoming well known. The articles, in the _Speaker_
especially, were attracting attention and _Greybeards at Play_ had a
considerable success. This, the first of Gilbert's books to be
published, is a curiosity. It is made up of three incredibly witty
satirical poems--"The Oneness of the Philosopher with Nature," "The
Dangers Attending Altruism on the High Seas" and "The Disastrous
Spread of Aestheticism in All Classes." The illustrations drawn by
himself are as witty as the verses. By the beginning of 1901 his work
was being sought for by other Liberal periodicals and he was writing
regularly for the _Daily News_. The following letter to Frances bears
the postmark Feb. 8, 1901.

   Somewhere in the Arabian Nights or some such place there is a story
   of a man who was Emperor of the Indies for one day. I am rather in
   the position of that person: for I am Editor of the _Speaker_ for one
   day. Hammond is unwell and Hirst has gone to dine with John Morley,
   so the latter asked me to see the paper through for this number.
   Hence this notepaper and the great hurry and brevity which I fear
   must characterise this letter.

   There are a few minor amusing things, however, that I have a moment
   to mention.

   (1) The "Daily News" have sent me a huge mass of books to review,
   which block up the front hall. A study of Swinburne--a book on
   Kipling--the last Richard le Gallienne--all very interesting. See if
   I don't do some whacking articles, all about the stars and the moon
   and the creation of Adam and that sort of thing. I really think I
   could work a revolution in Daily paper--writing by the introduction
   of poetical prose.

   (2) Among other books that I have to review came, all unsolicited,
   a book by your old friend Schofield. Ha! Ha! Ha! It's about the
   Formation of Character, or some of those low and beastly amusements.
   I think of introducing parts of my Comic Opera of the P.N.E.U. into
   the articles.

   (3) Another rather funny thing is the way in which my name is being
   spread about. Belloc declares that everyone says to him "Who
   discovered Chesterton?" and that he always replies "The genius
   Oldershaw." This may be a trifle Gallic, but Hammond has shown me
   more than one letter from Cambridge dons and such people demanding
   the identity of G.K.C. in a quite violent tone. They excuse
   themselves by offensive phrases in which the word "brilliant" occurs,
   but I shouldn't wonder if there was a thick stick somewhere at the
   back of it.

   Belloc, by the way, has revealed another side of his extraordinary
   mind. He seems to have taken our marriage much to heart, for he talks
   to me, no longer about French Jacobins and Mediaeval Saints, but
   entirely about the cheapest flats and furniture, on which, as on the
   others, he is a mine of information, assuring me paternally that
   "it's the carpet that does you." I should think this fatherly tone
   would amuse you.

   Now I must leave off: for the pages have come up to be seen through
   the press. . . .

_Greybeards at Play_ its author never took very seriously. It was not
included in his Collected Poems and he does not even mention it in
his _Autobiography_. He attached a great deal more importance to _The
Wild Knight and Other Poems_. It was a volume of some fifty poems,
many of which had already appeared in _The Outlook_ and _The
Speaker_. It was published late in 1900 and produced a crop of
enthusiastic reviews and more and more people began to ask one
another, "Who is G. K. Chesterton?"

One reviewer wrote: "If it were not for the haunting fear of losing a
humourist we should welcome the author of _The Wild Knight_ to a high
place among the poets." Another spoke of the "curious intensity" of
the volume. Among those who were less pleased was John Davidson, on
whom the book had been fathered by one reviewer, and who denied
responsibility for such "frantic rubbish," and also a "reverent"
reviewer who complained, "It is scattered all over with the name of

To Frances, Gilbert wrote:

   I have been taken to see Mrs. Meynell, poet and essayist, who is
   enthusiastic about the Wild Knight and is lending it to all her

   Last night I went to Mrs. Cox's Book Party. My costume was a great
   success, everyone wrestled with it, only one person guessed it, and
   the rest admitted that it was quite fair and simple. It consisted of
   wearing on the lapel of my dress coat the following letters.
   U.U.N.S.I.J. Perhaps you would like to work this out all by
   yourself--But no, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. The book I
   represented was "The Letters of Junius."

Mrs. Meynell never came to know Gilbert well and her daughter says in
the biography that her mother realised his "critical approval"
(admiration would be a better word) of her own work only by reading
his essays. But he once wrote an introduction for a book of hers and
her admiration of him would break out frequently in amusing
exclamations: "I hope the papers are nice to my Chesterton. He is
mine much more, really, than Belloc's."* "If I had been a man, and
large, I should have been Chesterton."**

[* _Alice Meynell_, p. 259.]

[** _Ibid._, p. 260.]

Brimley Johnson, who was to have been Gilbert's brother-in-law, sent
_The Wild Knight_ to Rudyard Kipling. His reply is amusing and also
touching, for Mr. Johnson was clearly pouring out, in interest in
Gilbert's career and in forwarding his marriage with Frances, the
affections that might merely have been frozen by Gertrude's death.

   The Elms, Rottingdean,
   Nov. 28th.


   Many thanks for _The Wild Knight_. Of course I knew some of the
   poems before, notably _The Donkey_ which stuck in my mind at the
   time I read it.

   I agree with you that there is any amount of promise in the
   work--and I think marriage will teach him a good deal too. It will be
   curious to see how he'll develop in a few years. We all begin with
   arrainging [sic] and elaborating all the Heavens and Hells and stars
   and tragedies we can lay our poetic hands on--Later we see folk--just
   common people under the heavens--

   Meantime I wish him all the happiness that there can be and for
   yourself such comfort as men say time brings after loss. It's apt to
   be a weary while coming but one goes the right way to get it if one
   interests oneself in the happiness of other folk. Even though the
   sight of this happiness is like a knife turning in a wound.

   Yours sincerely,


   P.S. Merely as a matter of loathsome detail, Chesterton has a bad
   attack of "aureoles." They are spotted all over the book. I think
   every one is bound in each book to employ unconsciously some pet word
   but that was Rossetti's.

   Likewise I notice "wan waste" and many "wans" and things that
   "catch and cling." He is too good not to be jolted out of that. What
   do you say to a severe course of Walt Whitman--or will marriage make
   him see people?

Gilbert had already taken both prescriptions--Walt Whitman and "folk,
just common people under the heavens." (Many years later James Agate
wrote in _Thursdays and Fridays_: "Unlike some other serious thinkers,
Chesterton understood his fellow men; the woes of a jockey were as
familiar to him as the worries of a judge.") Perhaps some slight
echoes of Swinburne did remain in this collection. Many earlier poems
exist in the Swinburne manner, not of thought but of expression:
Gilbert left an absolute command that these should never be published.

All Englishmen were stricken by the death of Queen Victoria. Mr.
Somers Cocks, who had come to know Gilbert through his intimacy with
Belloc, remembers that he wept when he heard of it. The tears may
almost be heard in a letter to Frances.

   Today the Queen was buried. I did not see the procession, first
   because I had an appointment with Hammond (of which more anon) and
   secondly because I think I felt the matter too genuinely. I like a
   crowd when I am triumphant or excited: for a crowd is the only thing
   that can cheer, as much as a cock is the only thing that can crow.
   Can anything be more absurd than the idea of a man cheering alone in
   his back bedroom? But I think that reverence is better expressed by
   one man than a million. There is something unnatural and impossible,
   even grotesque, in the idea of a vast crowd of human beings all
   assuming an air of delicacy. All the same, my dear, this is a great
   and serious hour and it is felt so completely by all England that I
   cannot deny the enduring wish I have, quite apart from certain more
   private sentiments, that the noblest Englishwoman I have ever known
   was here with me to renew, as I do, private vows of a very real
   character to do my best for this country of mine which I love with a
   love passing the love of Jingoes. It is sometimes easy to give one's
   country blood and easier to give her money. Sometimes the hardest
   thing of all is to give her truth.

   I am writing an article on the good friend who is dead: I hope
   particularly that you will like it. The one I really like so far is
   Belloc's in the "Speaker." I had, as I said, many things to say, but
   owing to the hour and a certain fatigue and idiocy in myself, I have
   only space for the most important.

   Hammond sent for me today and asked me seriously if I would help
   him in writing a book on Fox, sharing work, fame and profits. I told
   him that I had no special talent for research: he replied that he had
   no talent for literary form. I then said that I would be delighted to
   give him such assistance as I honestly thought valuable enough for
   him to split his profits for, that I thought I could give him such
   assistance in the matter of picturesqueness and plan of idea, more
   especially as Fox was a great hero of mine and the philosophy of his
   life involves the whole philosophy of the Revolution and of the love
   of mankind. We arranged that we would make a preliminary examination
   of the Fox record and then decide. . . .*

[* This book was never written nor even, I think, begun.]

Three more letters, two to Frances, one to his mother, complete the
outline of this eventful period. He was now determined to get married
quickly. For the first time and entirely without rancour, he realised
the inevitable competition in the world of journalism. The struggle
for success meant men fighting one another. Other journalists were
fighting him; but truly enough, though with a rare dispassionateness,
he realised that this meant a need for Daily bread in others similar
to his own.

   11, Warwick Gardens, W.
   (postmark: Feb. 19, 1901)

   . . . I hope that in your own beautiful kindness you will be
   indulgent just at this time if I only write rough letters or
   postcards. I am for the first time in my life, thoroughly _worried_,
   and I find it a rather exciting and not entirely unpleasant
   sensation. But everything depends just now, not only on my sticking
   hard to work and doing a lot of my very best, but on my thinking
   about it, keeping wide awake to the turn of the market, being ready
   to do things not in half a week, but in half an hour; getting the
   feelings and tendencies of other men and generally living in work. I
   am going to see Lehmann tomorrow and many things may come of it. I
   cannot express to you what it is to feel the grip of the great wheel
   of real life on you for the first time. For the first time I know
   what is meant by the word "enemies"--men who deliberately dislike you
   and oppose your career--and the funny thing is that I don't dislike
   them at all myself. Poor devils--very likely they want to be married
   in June too.

   I am a Socialist, but I love this fierce old world and am beginning
   to find a beauty in making money (in moderation) as in making
   statues. Always through my head one tune and words of Kipling set to

   "They passed one resolution, your sub-committee believe
   You can lighten the curse of Adam when you've lightened the curse
      of Eve.
   And till we are built like angels, with hammer and chisel and pen
   We'll work for ourselves and a woman, for ever and ever--Amen."

   11, Warwick Gardens, W.
   (postmark: March 4, 1901)

   . . . I have delayed this letter in a scandalous manner because I
   hoped I might have the arrangements with the _Daily News_ to tell
   you; as that is again put off, I must tell you later. The following,
   however, are grounds on which I believe everything will turn out
   right this year. It is arithmetic. "The Speaker" has hitherto paid me
   £70 a year, that is £6 a month. It has now raised it to £10 a month,
   which makes £120 a year. Moreover they encourage me to write as much
   as I like in the paper, so that assuming that I do something extra
   (poem, note, leader) twice a month or every other number, which I can
   easily do, that brings us to nearly £150 a year. So much for "The
   Speaker." Now for the "Daily News," both certainties and
   probabilities. Hammond (to whom you will favour me by being eternally
   grateful) pushed me so strongly with Lehmann for the post of manager
   of the literary page that it is most probable that I shall get
   it. . . . If I do, Hammond thinks they couldn't give me less than
   £200 a year. So that if this turns out right, we have £350, say,
   without any aid from "Bookman," books, magazine articles or stories.

   Let us however, put this chance entirely on one side and suppose
   that they can give me nothing but regular work on the "Daily News." I
   have just started a set of popular fighting articles on literature in
   the "Daily News" called "The Wars of Literature." They will appear at
   least twice a week, often three times. For each of these I am paid
   about a guinea and a half. This makes about £3 a week which is £144 a
   year. Thus with only the present certainties of "Speaker" and "Daily
   News" we have £264 a year, or very likely (with extra "Speaker"
   items) £288, close on £300. This again may be reinforced by all sorts
   of miscellaneous work which I shall get now my name is getting known,
   magazine articles, helping editors or publishers, reading Mss. and so
   on. In all these calculations I have kept deliberately under the
   figures, not over them: so that I don't think I have failed
   altogether to bring my promise within reasonable distance of fact
   already. Belloc suggested that I should write for the "Pilot" and as
   he is on it, he will probably get me some work. Hammond has become
   leader-writer on the "Echo" and will probably get me some reviewing
   on that. And between ourselves, to turn with intense relief, from all
   this egotism, Hammond and I have a little scheme on hand for getting
   Oldershaw a kind of editorial place on the "Echo" where they want a
   brisk but cultivated man of the world. I think we can bring it off:
   it is a good place for an ambitious young man. It would give me more
   happiness than I can say, while I am building my own house of peace,
   to do something for the man who did so much in giving me my reason
   for it.

   For well Thou knowest, O God most wise
   How good on earth was his gift to me
   Shall this be a little thing in thine eyes
   That is greater in mine than the whole great sea?

   I am afraid . . . that this is a very dull letter. But you know
   what I am. I can be practical, but only deliberately, by fixing my
   mind on a thing. In this letter, I sum up my last month's thinking
   about money resources. I haven't given a thought yet to the
   application and distribution of them in rent, furniture, etc. When I
   have done thinking about that you will get another dull letter. I can
   keep ten poems and twenty theories in my head at once. But I can only
   think of one practical thing at a time. The only conclusion of this
   letter is that on any calculation whatever, we ought to have £300 a
   year, and be on the road to four in a little while. With this before
   you I daresay you (who are more practical than I) could speculate and
   suggest a little as to the form of living and expenditure. . . .

Gilbert's mother perhaps needed more convincing. The letter to her
has no postmark but the £300 a year has grown to almost £500 and a
careful economy is promised.

   Mrs. Barnes
   The Orchards
   Burley. Hants.


   Thank you very much for your two letters. If you get back to
   Kensington before me (I shall return on Thursday night: I find I work
   here very well) would you mind sending on any letters. You might send
   on the cheque: though that is not necessary.

   There is a subject we have touched on once or twice that I want to
   talk to you about, for I am very much worried in my mind as to
   whether you will disapprove of a decision I have been coming to with
   a very earnest belief that I am seeking to do the right thing. I have
   just had information that my screw from "The Speaker" will be yet
   further increased from £120 a year to £150, or, if I do the full
   amount I can, £190 a year. I have also had a request from the "Daily
   News" to do two columns a week regularly, which [is] rather over £100
   a year, besides other book reviews. My other sources of income which
   should bring the amount up to nearly £150 more, at any rate, I will
   speak of in a moment.

   There is something, as I say, that is distressing me a great deal.
   I believe I said about a year ago that I hoped to get married in a
   year, if I had money enough. I fancy you took it rather as a joke: I
   was not so certain about it myself then. I have however been coming
   very seriously to the conclusion that if I pull off one more
   affair--a favourable arrangement with Reynolds' Newspaper, whose
   editor wants to see me at the end of this week, I shall, unless you
   disapprove, make a dash for it this year. When I mentioned the matter
   a short time ago, you said (if I remember right) that you did not
   think I ought to marry under £400 or £500 a year. I was moved to go
   into the matter thoroughly then and there, but as it happened I knew
   I had one or two bargains just coming of which would bring me nearer
   to the standard you named, so I thought I would let it stand over
   till I could actually quote them. Believe me, my dearest mother, I am
   not considering this affair wildly or ignorantly: I have been doing
   nothing but sums in my head for the last months. This is how matters
   stand. The _Speaker_ editor says they will take as much as I like to
   write. If I write my maximum I get £192 a year from them. From the
   _Daily News_, even if I do not get the post on the staff which was half
   promised me, I shall get at least £100 a year with a good deal over
   for reviews outside "The Wars of Literature." That makes nearly £300.
   With the Manchester Sunday Chronicle I have just made a bargain by
   which I shall get £72 a year. This makes £370 a year altogether. The
   matter now, I think, largely depends on Reynolds' Newspaper. If I do,
   as is contemplated, weekly articles and thumbnail sketches, they
   cannot give me less than £ 100 a year. This would bring the whole to
   £470 a year, or within £30 of your standard. Of course I know quite
   well that this is not like talking of an income from a business or a
   certain investment. But we should live a long way within this income,
   if we took a very cheap flat, even a workman's flat if necessary, had
   a woman in to do the laborious Daily work and for the rest waited on
   ourselves, as many people I know do in cheap flats. Moreover,
   journalism has its ups as well as downs, and I, I can fairly say, am
   on the upward wave. Without vanity and in a purely businesslike
   spirit I may say that my work is talked about a great deal. It is at
   least a remarkable fact that every one of the papers I write for (as
   detailed above) came to me and asked me to do work for them: from the
   _Daily News_ down to the Manchester Sunday Chronicle. I have, as I say,
   what seems to me a sufficient income for a start. That I shall have
   as good and better I am as certain as that I sit here. I know the
   clockwork of these papers and among one set of them I might almost
   say that I am becoming the fashion.

   Do not, please, think that I am entertaining this idea without
   realising that I shall have to start in a very serious and economical
   spirit. I have worked it out and I am sure we could live well within
   the above calculations and leave a good margin.

   I make all these prosaic statements because I want you to
   understand that I know the risks I think of running. But it is not
   any practical question that is distressing me: on that I think I see
   my way. But I am terribly worried for fear you should be angry or
   sorry about all this. I am only kept in hope by the remembrance that
   I had the same fear when I told you of my engagement and that you
   dispelled it with a directness and generosity that I shall not
   forget. I think, my dear Mother, that we have always understood each
   other really. We are neither of us very demonstrative: we come of
   some queer stock that can always say least when it means most. But I
   do think you can trust me when I say that I think a thing really
   right, and equally honestly admit that I can hardly explain why. To
   explain why I know it is right would be to communicate the
   incommunicable, and speak of delicate and sacred things in bald
   words. The most I can say is that I know Frances like the back of my
   hand and can tell without a word from her that she has never
   recovered from a wound* and that there is only one kind of peace that
   will heal it.

[* Gertrude's death.]

   I have tried to explain myself in this letter: I can do it better
   in a letter, somehow, but I do not think I have done it very
   successfully. However, with you it does not matter and it never will
   matter, how my thoughts come tumbling out. You at least have always
   understood what I meant.

   Always your loving son,



Married Life in London

_The suburbs are commonly referred to as prosaic. That is a matter of
taste. Personally I find them intoxicating_.

Introduction to _Literary London_.

THE WEDDING DAY drew near and the presents were pouring in.

"I feel like the young man in the Gospel," said Gilbert to Annie
Firmin, "sorrowful, because I have great possessions."

Conrad Noel married Gilbert and Frances at Kensington Parish Church
on June 28, 1901. As Gilbert knelt down the price ticket on the sole
of one of his new shoes became plainly visible. Annie caught Mrs.
Chesterton's eye and they began to laugh helplessly. Annie thinks,
too, that for once in their lives Gilbert and Cecil did not argue at
the Reception.

Lucian Oldershaw drove ahead to the station with the heavy luggage,
put it on the train and waited feverishly. That train went off (with
the luggage), then another, and at last the happy couple appeared.
Gilbert had felt it necessary to stop on the way "in order to drink a
glass of milk in one shop and to buy a revolver with cartridges in
another." The milk he drank because in childhood his mother used to
give him a glass in that shop. The revolver was for the defense of
his bride against possible dangers. They followed the luggage by a
slow train.

This love of weapons, his revolver, his favourite sword-stick,
remained with him all his life. It suggested the adventures that he
always bestowed on the heroes of his stories and would himself have
loved to experience. He noted in _Twelve Types_ Scott's love of armour
and of weapons for their own sakes--the texture, the power, the
beauty of a sword-hilt or a jewelled dagger. As a child would play
with these things Gilbert played with them, but they stood also in
his mind for freedom, adventure, personal responsibility, and much
else that the modern world had lost.

The honeymoon was spent on the Norfolk Broads. On the way they
stopped at Ipswich "and it was like meeting a friend in a fairy-tale
to find myself under the sign of the White Horse on the first day of
my honeymoon." Annie Firmin was staying in Warwick Gardens for the
wedding and afterwards. Gilbert's first letter, from the Norfolk
Broads, began "I have a wife, a piece of string, a pencil and a
knife: what more can any man want on a honeymoon."

Asked on his return what wallpapers he would prefer in the house they
had chosen, he asked for brown paper so that he could draw pictures
everywhere. He had by no means abandoned this old habit, and Annie
remembers an illness during which he asked for a long enough pencil
to draw on the ceiling. Their quaint little house in Edwardes Square,
Kensington, lent to them by Mr. Boore, an old friend of Frances, was
close to Warwick Gardens. "I remember the house well," wrote E. C.
Bentley later, "with its garden of old trees and its general air of
Georgian peace. I remember too the splendid flaming frescoes, done in
vivid crayons, of knights and heroes and divinities with which G.K.C.
embellished the outside wall at the back, beneath a sheltering
portico. I have often wondered whether the landlord charged for them
as dilapidations at the end of the tenancy."

They were only in Edwardes Square for a few months and then moved to
Overstrand Mansions, Battersea, where the rest of their London life
was spent. It was here I came to know them a few years later. As soon
as they could afford it they threw drawing-room and dining-room
together to make one big room. At one end hung an Engagement board
with what Father O'Connor has described as a _"loud_ inscription"--
LEST WE FORGET. Beside the engagements was pinned a poem by Hilaire

   Frances and Gilbert have a little flat
   At eighty pounds a year and cheap at that
   Where Frances who is Gilbert's only wife
   Leads an unhappy and complaining life:
   while Gilbert who is Frances' only man
   Puts up with it as gamely as he can.

The Bellocs chose life in the country much earlier than the
Chestertons, and an undated letter to Battersea threatens due
reprisals in an exclusion from their country home, if the Chestertons
are not prepared to receive him in town at a late hour.

   Kings Land, Shipley, Horsham

   It will annoy you a good deal to hear that I am in town tomorrow
   Wednesday evening and that I shall appear at your Apartment at 10.45
   or 10.30 at earliest. P.M.! You are only just returned. You are
   hardly settled down. It is an intolerable nuisance. You heartily wish
   I had not mentioned it.

   Well, you see that [arrow pointing to "Telegrams, Coolham,
   Sussex"], if you wire there before _One_ you can put me off, but if
   you do I shall melt your keys, both the exterior one which forms the
   body or form of the matter and the interior one which is the mystical
   content thereof.

   Also if you put me off I shall not have you down here ever to see
   the _Oak Room_, the _Tapestry Room_, the _Green Room_ etc.


Early in his Battersea life Gilbert received a note from Max
Beerbohm, the great humourist, introducing himself and suggesting a
luncheon together.

   I am quite different from my writings (and so, I daresay, are you
   from yours)--so that we should not necessarily fail to hit it off.

   I, in the flesh, am modest, full of commonsense, very genial, and
   rather dull.

   What you are remains to be seen--or not to be seen--by me, according
   to your decision.

Gilbert's decision was for the meeting and an instant liking grew
into a warm friendship. As in J.D.C. days Gilbert had written verse
about his friends, so now did he try to sum up an impression, perhaps
after some special talk:

   And Max's queer crystalline sense
   Lit, like a sea beneath a sea,
   Shines through a shameless impudence
   As shameless a humility.
   Or Belloc somewhat rudely roared
   But all above him when he spoke
   The immortal battle trumpets broke
   And Europe was a single sword.*

[* Unpublished fragment.]

Somewhere about this time must have occurred the incident
mentioned by George Bernard Shaw in a note which appeared
in the _Mark Twain Quarterly_ (Spring, 1937):

I cannot remember when I first met Chesterton. I was so much struck
by a review of Scott's _Ivanhoe_ which he wrote for the _Daily News_
in the course of his earliest notable job as feuilletonist to that
paper that I wrote to him asking who he was and where he came from,
as he was evidently a new star in literature. He was either too shy
or too lazy to answer. The next thing I remember is his lunching with
us on quite intimate terms, accompanied by Belloc.

The actual first meeting, forgotten by Shaw, is remembered by
Gilbert's brother-in-law, Lucian Oldershaw. He and Gilbert had gone
together to Paris where they visited Rodin, then making a bust of
Bernard Shaw. Mr. Oldershaw introduced Gilbert to G.B.S., who,
Rodin's secretary told them, had been endeavouring to explain at some
length the nature of the Salvation Army, leading up (one imagines) to
an account of Major Barbara. At the end of the explanation, Rodin's
secretary remarked--to a rather apologetic Shaw--"The Master says you
have not much French but you impose yourself."

"Shaw talked Gilbert down," Mr. Oldershaw complained. That the famous
man should talk more than the beginner is hardly surprising, but all
through Gilbert's life the complaint recurs on the lips of his
admirers, just as a similar complaint is made by Lockhart about Sir
Walter Scott. Chesterton, like Scott, abounded in cordial admiration
of other men and women and had a simple enjoyment in meeting them.
And Chesterton was one of the few great conversationalists--perhaps
the only one--who would really rather listen than talk.

In 1901 appeared his first book of collected essays, _The Defendant_.
The essays in it had already appeared in _The Speaker_. Like all his
later work it had the mixed reception of enthusiasts who saw what he
meant, and puzzled reviewers who took refuge in that blessed word
"paradox." "Paradox ought to be used," said one of these, "like
onions to season the salad. Mr. Chesterton's salad is all onions.
Paradox has been defined as 'truth standing on her head to attract
attention.' Mr. Chesterton makes truth cut her throat to attract

Without denying that his love of a joke led him into indefensible
puns and suchlike fooleries (though Mgr. Ronald Knox tells me he is
prepared to defend all of G.K.'s puns), I think nearly all his
paradoxes were either the startling expression of an entirely
neglected truth, or the startling re-emphasis of the neglected side
of a truth. Once, he said: "It is a paradox, but it is God, and not
I, who should have the credit of it." He proved his case a few years
later in the chapter of _Orthodoxy_ called "The Paradoxes of
Christianity." What it amounted to was roughly this: paradox must be
of the nature of things because of God's infinity and the limitations
of the world and of man's mind. To us limited beings God can express
His idea only in fragments. We can bring together apparent
contradictions in those fragments whereby a greater truth is
suggested. If we do this in a sudden or incongruous manner we startle
the unprepared and arouse the cry of paradox. But if we will not do
it we shall miss a great deal of truth.

Chesterton also saw many proverbs and old sayings as containing a
truth which the people who constantly repeated them had forgotten.
The world was asleep and must be awakened. The world had gone
placidly mad and must be violently restored to sanity. That the
methods he used annoyed some is undeniable, but he did force people
to think, even if they raged at him as the unaccustomed muscles came
into play.

"I believe," he said in a speech at this date, "in getting into
hot water. I think it keeps you clean." And he believed intensely
in keeping out of a narrow stream of merely literary life. To
those who exalted the poet above the journalist he gave this

   The poet writing his name upon a score of little pages in the
   silence of his study, may or may not have an intellectual right to
   despise the journalist: but I greatly doubt whether he would not
   morally be the better if he saw the great lights burning on through
   darkness into dawn, and heard the roar of the printing wheels
   weaving the destinies of another day. Here at least is a school of
   labour and of some rough humility, the largest work ever published
   anonymously since the great Christian cathedrals.*

[* "A Word for the Mere Journalist." _Darlington North Star:_
February 3, 1902.]

He plunged then into the life of Fleet Street and held it his
proudest boast to be a journalist. But he had his own way of being a

   On the whole, I think I owe my success (as the millionaires say) to
   having listened respectfully and rather bashfully to the very best
   advice, given by all the best journalists who had achieved the best
   sort of success in journalism; and then going away and doing the
   exact opposite. For what they all told me was that the secret of
   success in journalism was to study the particular journal and write
   what was suitable to it. And, partly by accident and ignorance and
   partly through the real rabid certainties of youth, I cannot remember
   that I ever wrote any article that was at all suitable to any
   paper. . . . I wrote on a Nonconformist organ like the old _Daily
   News_ and told them all about French cafés and Catholic cathedrals;
   and they loved it, because they had never heard of them before. I
   wrote on a robust Labour organ like the old _Clarion_ and defended
   mediaeval theology and all the things their readers had never heard
   of; and their readers did not mind me a bit.*

[* _Autobiography_, pp. 185-6.]

Mr. Titterton, who worked also on the _Daily News_ and came at this
time to know G.K. in the Pharos Club, says that at first he was
rather shy of the other men on the staff but after a dinner at which
he was asked to speak he came to know and like them and to be at home
in Fleet Street. He liked to work amid human contact and would write
his articles in a public-house or in the club or even in the street,
resting the paper against a wall.

Frank Swinnerton records* a description given him by Charles
Masterman of

   how Chesterton used to sit writing his articles in a Fleet St.
   café, sampling and mixing a terrible conjunction of drinks, while
   many waiters hovered about him, partly in awe, and partly in case he
   should leave the restaurant without paying for what he had had. One
   day . . . the headwaiter approached Masterman. "Your friend," he
   whispered, admiringly, "he very clever man. He sit and laugh. And
   then he write. And then he laugh at what he write."

[* _Georgian Scene_, p. 94.]

He loved Fleet Street and did a good deal of drinking there. But not
only there. When (in the _Autobiography_) he writes of wine and song
it is not Fleet Street and its taverns that come back to his mind but
"the moonstruck banquets given by Mr. Maurice Baring," the garden in
Westminster where he fenced with real swords against one more
intoxicated than himself, songs shouted in Auberon Herbert's rooms
near Buckingham Palace.

After marriage Frances seems to have given up the struggle, so
ardently pursued during their engagement, to make him tidy. By a
stroke of genius she decided instead to make him picturesque. The
conventional frock-coat worn so unconventionally, the silk hat
crowning a mat of hair, disappeared, and a wide-brimmed slouch hat
and flowing cloak more appropriately garbed him. This was especially
good as he got fatter. He was a tall man, six foot two. As a boy he
had been thin, but now he was rapidly putting on weight. Neither he
nor Cecil played games (the tennis did not last!) but they used to go
for long walks, sometimes going off together for a couple of days at
a time. Gilbert still liked to do this with Frances, but the
sedentary Daily life and the consumption of a good deal of beer did
not help towards a graceful figure. By 1903 G.K. was called a fat
humourist and he was fast getting ready to be Dr. Johnson in various
pageants. By 1906--he was then thirty-two--he had become famous
enough to be one of the celebrities painted or photographed for
exhibitions; and Bernard Shaw described a photo of him by Coburn:

   Chesterton is "our Quinbus Flestrin," the young Man Mountain, a
   large abounding gigantically cherubic person who is not only large in
   body and mind beyond all decency, but seems to be growing larger as
   you look at him--"swellin' wisibly," as Tony Weller puts it. Mr.
   Coburn has represented him as flowing off the plate in the very act
   of being photographed and blurring his own outlines in the process.
   Also he has caught the Chestertonian resemblance to Balzac and
   unconsciously handled his subject as Rodin handled Balzac. You may
   call the placing of the head on the plate wrong, the focussing wrong,
   the exposure wrong if you like, but Chesterton is right and a right
   impression of Chesterton is what Mr. Coburn was driving at.

The change in his appearance G.K. celebrated in a stanza of his
"Ballade of the Grotesque":

   I was light as a penny to spend,
   I was thin as an arrow to cleave,
   I could stand on a fishing-rod's end
   With composure, though on the _qui vive_;
   But from Time, all a-flying to thieve,
   The suns and the moons of the year,
   A different shape I receive;
   The shape is decidedly queer.

"London," said a recently arrived American, "is the most marvellously
fulfilling experience. I went to see Fleet Street this morning, and
met G. K. Chesterton face to face. Wrapped in a cloak and standing in
the doorway of a pie-shop, he was composing a poem reciting it aloud
as he wrote. The most striking thing about the incident was that no
one took the slightest notice."

I doubt if any writer, except Dickens, has so quickly become an
institution as Chesterton. Nor, of course, would his picturesqueness
in Fleet Street or his swift success as a journalist have
accomplished this but for the vast output of books on every
conceivable subject.

But before I come to the books written during those years at
Battersea, a word must be said of another element besides his
journalistic contacts that was linking G.K. with a wider world than
the solely literary. We have seen that even when his religion was at
its lowest point, in the difficult Art School days, he never lost it
entirely--"I hung on to religion by one thin thread of thanks." In
the years of the Notebook, he advanced very far in his pondering on
and acceptance of the great religious truths. But this did not as yet
mean attachment to a Church. Then he met Frances. "She actually
practised a religion. This was something utterly unaccountable both
to me and to the whole fussy culture in which she lived." Now that
they were married, Frances, as a convinced Anglo-Catholic, was
bringing more clergy and other Anglican friends into Gilbert's
circle. Moreover, he was lecturing all over England, and this brought
him into contact with all sorts of strange religious beliefs. "Amid
all this scattered thinking . . . I began to piece together fragments
of the old religious scheme; mainly by the various gaps that denoted
its disappearance. And the more I saw of real human nature, the more
I came to suspect that it was really rather bad for all these people
that it had disappeared."*

[* _Autobiography_, p. 177.]

In 1903-04 he had a tremendous battle (the detail of which will be
treated in the next chapter) in the _Clarion_ with Robert Blatchford.
In it he adumbrated many of the ideas that were later developed in
_Orthodoxy_. Of the arguments used by Blatchford and his atheist
friends, G.K. wrote that the effect on his own mind was: "Almost thou
persuadest me to be a Christian." In a diary kept by Frances
spasmodically during the years 1904-05, she notes that Gilbert has
been asked to preach as the first of a series of lay preachers in a
city church. She writes:

_March 16th_. One of the proudest days of my life. Gilbert preached
at St. Paul's, Covent Garden for the C.S.U. [Christian Social Union]
_Vox populi vox Dei_. A crammed church--he was very eloquent and
restrained. Sermons will be published afterwards.

Published they were: under the title, _Preachers from the Pew_.

_March 30th_. The second sermon: "The Citizen, the Gentleman and the
Savage." Even better than last week. "Where there is no vision the
people perisheth."

When it is remembered that the _Browning_, the _Watts_, _Twelve
Types_ and the _Napoleon of Notting Hill_ had all been published and
received with acclaim, it is touching that Frances should speak thus
of the "proudest day" of her life. That Gilbert should himself have
vision and show it to others remained her strongest aspiration. Not
thus felt all his admirers. The Blatchford controversy on matters
religious became more than many of them could bear.

A plaintive correspondent (says the _Daily News_), who seems to have
had enough of the eternal verities and the eternal other things,
sends us the following "lines written on reading Mr. G. K.
Chesterton's forty-seventh reply to a secularist opponent":

   What ails our wondrous "G.K.C."
   Who late, on youth's glad wings,
   Flew fairylike, and gossip'd free
   Of translunary things,

   That thus, in dull didactic mood,
   He quits the realms of dream,
   And like some pulpit-preacher rude,
   Drones on one dreary theme?

   Stern Blatchford, _thou_ hast dashed the glee
   Of our Omniscient Babe;
   Thy name alone now murmurs he,
   Or that of dark McCabe.

   All vain his cloudy fancies swell,
   His paradox all vain,
   Obsessed by that malignant spell
   Of Blatchford on the brain.


[* _Daily News_, 12 January, 1904.]

Mr. Noel has a livelier memory of Gilbert's religious and social
activities. On one occasion he went to the Battersea flat for a
meeting at which he was to speak and Gilbert take the chair, to
establish a local branch of the Christian Social Union. The two men
got into talk over their wine in the dining-room (then still a
separate room) and Frances came in much agitated. "Gilbert you must
dress. The people will be arriving any moment.

"Yes, yes, I'll go."

The argument was resumed and went on with animation. Frances came
back. "Gilbert, the drawing-room is half full and people are still
arriving." At last in despair she brought Gilbert's dress-clothes
into the dining-room and made him change there, still arguing. Next
he had to be urged into the drawing-room. Established at a small
table he began to draw comic bishops, quite oblivious of the fact
that he was to take the chair at the now assembled meeting. Finally
Frances managed to attract his attention, he leaped up overthrowing
the small table and scattering the comic bishops.

"Surely this story," said a friend to whom I told it, "proves what
some people said about Chesterton's affectation. He must have been

I do not think so, and those who knew Gilbert best believed him
incapable of posing. But he was perfectly capable of wilfulness and
of sulking like a schoolboy. It amused him to argue with Mr. Noel, it
did not amuse him at all to take the chair at a meeting. So, as he
was not allowed to go on arguing, he drew comic bishops.

There was, too, more than a touch of this wilfulness in the second
shock he administered to respectable Battersea later in the evening.
An earnest young lady asked the company for counsel as to the best
way of arranging her solitary maid's evening out. "I'm so afraid,"
ended the appeal, "of her going to the Red Lion."

"Best place she could go," said Gilbert. And occasionally he would
add example to precept, for society and Fleet Street were not the
only places for human intercourse. "At present," commented a
journalist, "he is cultivating the local politics of Battersea; in
secluded ale houses he drinks with the frequenters and learns their
opinions on municipal milk and on Mr. John Burns."

"Good friends and very gay companions," Gilbert calls the Christian
Social Union group of whom, beside Conrad Noel, were Charles
Masterman, Bishop Gore, Percy Dearmer, and above all Canon Scott
Holland. Known as "Scotty" and adored by many generations of young
men, he was "a man with a natural surge of laughter within him, so
that his broad mouth seemed always to be shut down on it in a grimace
of restraint."* Like Gilbert, he suffered from the effect of urging
his most serious views with apparent flippancy and fantastic
illustrations. In the course of a speech to a respectable Nottingham
audience he remarked, "I dare say several of you here have never been
in prison."

[* _Autobiography_, p. 169.]

"A ghastly stare," says Gilbert, describing this speech, "was fixed
on all the faces of the audience; and I have ever since seen it in my
own dreams; for it has constituted a considerable part of my own

Gilbert's verses, summarizing the meeting as it must have sounded to
a worthy Nottingham tradesman, are quoted in the _Autobiography_ and
completed in _Father Brown on Chesterton_. I have put them together
here for they show how merrily these men were working to change the

   The Christian Social Union here
   Was very much annoyed;
   It seems there is some duty
   Which we never should avoid,
   And so they sang a lot of hymns
   To help the Unemployed.

   Upon a platform at the end
   The speakers were displayed
   And Bishop Hoskins stood in front
   And hit a bell and said
   That Mr. Carter was to pray,
   And Mr. Carter prayed.

   Then Bishop Gore of Birmingham
   He stood upon one leg
   And said he would be happier
   If beggars didn't beg,
   And that if they pinched his palace
   It would take him down a peg.

   He said that Unemployment
   Was a horror and a blight,
   He said that charities produced
   Servility and spite,
   And stood upon the other leg
   And said it wasn't right.

   And then a man named Chesterton
   Got up and played with water,
   He seemed to say that principles
   Were nice and led to slaughter
   And how we always compromised
   And how we didn't orter.

   Then Canon Holland fired ahead
   Like fifty cannons firing,
   We tried to find out what he meant
   With infinite enquiring,
   But the way he made the windows jump
   We couldn't help admiring.

   I understood him to remark
   (It seemed a little odd.)
   That half a dozen of his friends
   had never been in quod.
   He said he was a Socialist himself,
   And so was God.

   He said the human soul should be
   Ashamed of every sham,
   He said a man should constantly
   Ejaculate "I am"
   When he had done, I went outside
   And got into a tram.

Partly perhaps to console himself for the loss of his son's Daily
company, chiefly, I imagine, out of sheer pride and joy in his
success, Edward Chesterton started after the publication of _The Wild
Knight_ pasting all Gilbert's press-cuttings into volumes. Later I
learnt that it had long been Gilbert's weekly penance to read these
cuttings on Sunday afternoon at his father's house. Traces of his
passage are visible wherever a space admits of a caricature, and
occasionally, where it does not, the caricature is superimposed on
the text.

His growing fame may be seen by the growing size of these volumes and
the increased space given to each of his books. _Twelve Types_ in
1902 had a good press for a young man's work and was taken seriously
in some important papers, but its success was as nothing compared
with that of the _Browning_ a year later. The bulk of _Twelve Types_,
as of _The Defendant_, had appeared in periodicals, but never in his
life did Gilbert prepare a volume of his essays for the press without
improving, changing and unifying. It was never merely a collection,
always a book.

Still, the _Browning_ was another matter. It was a compliment for a
comparatively new author to be given the commission for the English
Men of Letters Series. Stephen Gwynn describes the experience of the

On my advice the Macmillans had asked him to do Browning in the
"English Men of Letters," when he was still not quite arrived. Old
Mr. Craik, the Senior Partner, sent for me and I found him in white
fury, with Chesterton's proofs corrected in pencil; or rather not
corrected; there were still thirteen errors uncorrected on one page;
mostly in quotations from Browning. A selection from a Scotch ballad
had been quoted from memory and three of the four lines were wrong, I
wrote to Chesterton saying that the firm thought the book was going
to "disgrace" them. His reply was like the trumpeting of a crushed
elephant. But the book was a huge success.*

[* Quoted in _Chesterton_, by Cyril Clemens, p. 14.]

In fact, it created a sensation and established G.K. in the front
rank. Not all the reviewers liked it, and one angry writer in the
_Athenaeum_ pointed out that, not content with innumerable
inaccuracies about Browning's descent and the events of his life,
G.K. had even invented a line in "Mr. Sludge the Medium." But every
important paper had not only a review but a long review, and the vast
majority were enthusiastic. Chesterton claimed Browning as a poet not
for experts but for every man. His treatment of the Browning love
affair, of the poet's obscurity, of "The Ring and the Book," all
receive this same praise of an originality which casts a true and
revealing light for his readers. As with all his literary criticism,
the most famous critics admitted that he had opened fresh windows on
the subject for themselves.

This attack on his inaccuracy and admiration for his insight
constantly recurs with Chesterton's literary work. Readers noted that
in the _Ballad of the White Horse_ he made Alfred's left wing face
Guthrum's left wing. He was amused when it was pointed out, but never
bothered to alter it. His memory was prodigious. All his friends
testify to his knowing by heart pages of his favourite authors (and
these were not few). Ten years after his time with Fisher Unwin,
Frances told Father O'Connor that he remembered all the plots and
most of the characters of the "thousands" of novels he had read for
the firm. But he trusted his memory too much and never verified.
Indeed, when it was a question merely of verbal quotation he said it
was pedantic to bother, and when latterly Dorothy Collins looked up
his references he barely tolerated it.

Again while he constantly declared that he was no scholar, he said
things illuminating even to scholars. Thus, much later, when
Chesterton's _St. Thomas Aquinas_ appeared, the Master-General of the
Dominican Order, Père Gillet, O.P., lectured on and from it to large
meetings of Dominicans. Mr. Eccles told me that talking of Virgil,
G.K. said things immensely illuminating for experts on Latin poetry.
In a very different field, Mr. Oldershaw noted after their trip to
Paris that though he could set Gilbert right on many a detail yet his
generalisations were marvellous. He had, said Mr. Eccles, an
intuitive mind. He had, too, read more than was realised, partly
because his carelessness and contempt for scholarship misled. Where
the pedant would have referred and quoted and cross-referred, he went
dashing on, throwing out ideas from his abundance and caring little
if among his wealth were a few faults of fact or interpretation.
"Abundance" was a word much used of his work just now, and in the
field of literary criticism he was placed high, and had an
enthusiastic following. We may assume that the _Browning_ had
something to do with Sir Oliver Lodge's asking him in the next year
(1904) to become a candidate for the Chair of Literature at
Birmingham University. But he had no desire to be a professor.

Frances, in her diary, notes some of their widening contacts and
engagements. The mixture of shrewdness and simplicity in her comments
will be familiar to those who knew her intimately. Meeting her for
the first time I think the main impression was that of the "single
eye." She abounded in Gilbert's sense, as my mother commented after
an early meeting, and ministered to his genius. Yet she never lost an
individual, markedly feminine point of view, which helped him
greatly, as anyone can see who will read all he wrote on marriage. He
shows an insight almost uncanny in the section called, "The Mistake
About Women" in _What's Wrong with the World_. "Some people," he said
in a speech of 1905, "when married gain each other. Some only lose
themselves." The Chestertons gained each other. And by the sort of
paradox he loved, Frances did so by throwing the stream of her own
life unreservedly into the greater river of her husband's. She writes
in her Diary, for 1904:

   Gilbert and I meet all sorts of queer, well-known, attractive,
   unattractive people and I expect this book will be mostly about
   them. . . .

   Feb. 17th. We went together to Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Colvin's "At
   home." It was rather jolly but too many clever people there to be
   really nice. The clever people were Mr. Joseph Conrad, Mr. Henry
   James, Mr. Laurence Binyon, Mr. Maurice Hewlett, and a great many
   more. Mr. and Mrs. Colvin looked so happy.

   Feb. 23rd. Gilbert went as Mr. Lane's guest to a dinner of the "Odd
   Volumes" at the Imperial Restaurant. The other guest was Baden
   Powell. He and Gilbert made speeches. . . .

   March 8th. Gilbert was to speak on "Education" at a C.S.U. meeting
   at Sion College, but a debate on the Chinese Labour in South Africa
   was introduced instead and went excitingly. There is to be a big
   meeting of the C.S.U. to protest. Though I suppose it's all no good
   now. When the meeting was over we adjourned to a tea-shop and had
   immense fun. Gilbert, Percy Dearmer and Conrad Noel walked together
   down Fleet Street, and never was there a funnier sight. Gilbert's
   costume consisted of a frock coat, huge felt hat and walking stick
   brandished in the face of the passers-by, to their exceeding great
   danger. Conrad was dressed in an old lounge suit of sober grey with a
   clerical hat jauntily stuck on the back of his head (which led
   someone to remark, "Are you here in the capacity of a private
   gentleman, poor curate, or low-class actor?"). Mr. Dearmer was clad
   in wonderful clerical garments of which he alone possesses the
   pattern, which made him look like a Chaucer Canterbury Pilgrim or a
   figure out of a Noah's ark. They swaggered down the roadway talking
   energetically. At tea we talked of many things, the future of the
   "Commonwealth" chiefly . . .

   March 22nd. Meeting of Christian Theosophical Society at which
   Gilbert lectured on "How Theosophy appears to a Christian." He was
   very good. Herbert Burrows vigorously attacked him in debate
   afterwards . . . _Napoleon of Notting Hill_ was published.

   April 27th. The Bellocs and the Noels came here to dinner. Hilaire
   in great form recited his own poetry with great enthusiasm the whole
   evening . . .

   May 9th. the Literary Fund Dinner. About the greatest treat I ever
   had in my life. J. M. Barrie presided. He was so splendid and so
   complimentary. Mrs. J. M. Barrie is very pretty, but the most
   beautiful woman there was Mrs. Anthony Hope--copper coloured hair,
   masses, with a wreath of gardenias--green eyes--and a long neck, very
   beautiful figure. The speakers were Barrie, Lord Tennyson, Comyns
   Carr, A. E. W. Mason, Mrs. Craigie (who acquitted herself
   wonderfully) and Mrs. Flora Annie Steel. After the formal dinner was
   a reception at which everyone was very friendly. It is wonderful the
   way in which they all accept Gilbert, and one well-known man told me
   he was the biggest man present. Anyhow there was the feeling of
   brotherhood and fellowship in the wielding of "the lovely and
   loathely pen" (J. M. Barrie's speech).

   May 12th. Went to see Max Beerbohm's caricature of Gilbert at the
   Carfax Gallery. "G.K.C.--humanist--kissing the World." It's more like
   Thackeray, very funny though.

   June 9th. A political "at home" at Mrs. Sidney Webb's--saw Winston
   Churchill and Lloyd George. Politics and nothing but politics is dull
   work though, and an intriguer's life must be a pretty poor affair.
   Mrs. Sidney Webb looked very handsome and moved among her guests as
   one to the manner born. I like Mrs. Leonard Courtenay who is always
   kind to me. Charlie Masterman and I had a long talk on the iniquities
   of the "Daily News" and goodness knows they are serious enough.

   June 22nd. An "at home" at Mrs. ----'s proved rather a dull affair
   save for a nice little conversation with Watts Dunton. His walrusy
   appearance which makes the bottom of his face look fierce, is
   counteracted by the kindness of his little eyes. He told us the inner
   story of Whistler's "Peacock Room" which scarcely redounds to
   Whistler's credit. The Duchess of Sutherland was there and many
   notabilities. Between ourselves Mr. ---- is a good-hearted snob. His
   wife nice, intelligent, but affected (I suppose unconsciously). I
   don't really like the "precious people." They worry me.

   June 30th. Graham Robertson's "at home" was exceedingly select. I
   felt rather too uncultivated to talk much. Mr. Lane tucked his arm
   into mine and requested to know the news which means, "tell me all
   your husband is doing, or going to do, how much is he getting, who
   will publish for him, has he sold his American rights, etc." Cobden's
   three daughters looked out of place, so solid and sincere are they.
   It was all too grand. No man ought to have so much wealth.

   July 5th. Gilbert went today to see Swinburne--I think he found it
   rather hard to reconcile the idea with the man, but he was
   interested, though I could not gather much about the visit. He was
   amused at the compliments which Watts Dunton and Swinburne pay to
   each other unceasingly.

   December 8th. George Alexander has an idea that he wants Gilbert to
   write a play for him, and sent for him to come and see him. He was
   apparently taken with the notion of a play on the Crusades, and
   although there is at present no love incident in Gilbert's mind,
   Alexander introduced and acted the supposed love scene with great
   spirit. It may come off some day perhaps.

   December 31st. H. Belloc's been very ill but is better, thank God.


   Feb. 1st. Gilbert, a guest at the "Eighty Club" dinner. Rhoda and I
   went to after dinner speeches. G. W. E. Russell (Chair). Augustine
   Birrell guest and Sir Henry Fowler. It amused me hugely. Russell so
   imprudent and reckless, Birrell so prudent and incapable of giving
   himself away, Sir Henry Fowler so commonplace and trite. He looked so
   wicked. I thought of Mr. Haldane's story of Fowler's fur coat and his
   single remark on examining it: "skunk."

   Feb. 11th. Rather an interesting lunch at Mrs. J. R. Green's. Jack
   Yeats and Mrs. Thursby were there. The atmosphere is too political
   and I imagine Mrs. Green to be a bit of a wire-puller, though I
   believe a nice woman.

   Feb. 24th. Mr. Halliwell Sutcliffe came over. He is amusing and
   nice. Very puzzled at Gilbert's conduct, which on this particular
   occasion was peculiarly eccentric.

   March 9th. I had an amusing lunch at the Hotel Cecil with Miss
   Bisland (representative of McClure). Evidently thinks a lot of
   Gilbert and wants his work for McClure. O ye gods and little fishes!
   The diplomatic service ought to be all conducted by women. I offered
   her Margaret's poems in exchange for a short interview with Meredith
   which she wishes Gilbert to undertake.

   March 14th. Gilbert dined at the Buxtons, met Asquith.

   March 19th. Lienie is in town and we have been with her to call on
   the Duchess of Sutherland. When I had got used to the splendour it
   was jolly enough. Her Grace is a pretty, sweet woman who was very
   nervous, but got better under the fire of Gilbert's chaff. She made
   him write in her album which he did, a most ridiculous poem of which
   he should be ashamed. It must be truly awful to live in the sort of
   way the Duchess does and endeavour to keep sane.

   May 20th. Words fail me when I try to recall the sensation aroused
   by a J.D.C. dinner. It seems so odd to think of these men as boys, to
   realize what their school life was and what a powerful element the
   J.D.C. was in the lives of all. And there were husbands and wives,
   and the tie so strong, and the long, long thoughts of schoolboys and
   schoolgirls fell on us, as if the battle were still to come instead
   of raging round us.

   May 24th. We went together to see George Meredith. I suppose many
   people have seen him in his little Surrey Cottage; Flint Cottage,
   Boxhill. He has a wonderful face and a frail old body. He talks
   without stopping except to drink ginger-beer. He told us many
   stories, mostly about society scandals of some time back. I remember
   he asked Gilbert, "Do you like babies?" and when Gilbert said, "Yes,"
   he said "So do I, especially in the comet stage."

   June 5th. Granville Barker came to see Gilbert, touching the
   possibility of a play.

   June 29th. A garden party at the Bishop's House, Kennington. The
   Bishop told me that A. J. Balfour was very impressed with "Heretics."
   Guild of St. Matthew Service and rowdy supper. Gilbert made an
   excellent speech.

   July 5th. Gilbert dined at the Asquiths; met Rosebery. I think he
   hated it.

   July 16th. Gilbert went to see Mrs. Grenfell at Taplow. He met
   Balfour, Austen Chamberlain and George Wyndham. Had an amusing time,
   no doubt. Says Balfour is most interesting to talk to but appears
   bored. George Wyndham is delightful.

One felt always with both Frances and Gilbert that this society life
stayed on the surface--amusing, distracting, sometimes welcome,
sometimes boring--but never infringing the deeper reality of their
relationships with old friends, with their own families, with each
other. Frances wrote endless business and other letters for them
both: in just a handful, mainly to Father O'Connor, does she show her
deeper life of thought and feeling. Gilbert had little time now for
writing anything but books and articles. Never a very good
correspondent he had become an exceedingly bad one. Annie Firmin's
engagement to Robert Kidd produced one of the few letters that exist.
It is handwritten and undated.

   A Restaurant somewhere.


   I have thought of you, I am quite certain, more often than I have
   of any human being for a long time past--except my wife who recalls
   herself continually to me by virtues, splendours, agreeable memories,
   screams, pokers, brickbats and other things. And yet, though whenever
   my mind was for an instant emptied of theology and journalism and
   patriotism and such rot, it has been immediately filled with you, I
   have never written you a line.

   I am not going to explain this and for a good reason. It is a part
   of the Mystery of the Male, and you will soon, even if you do not
   already, get the hang of it, by the society of an individual who
   while being unmistakably a much better man than I am, is nevertheless
   male. I can only say that when men want a thing they act quite
   differently to women. We put off everything we want to do, in the
   ordinary way. If the Archangel Michael wrote me a complimentary
   letter tomorrow (as perhaps he may) I should put it in my pocket,
   saying, "How admirable a reply shall I write to that in a week or a
   month or so." I put off writing to you because I wanted to write
   something that had in it all that you have been, to me, to all of us.
   And now instead I am scrawling this nonsense in a tavern after lunch.

   My very dear old friend, I am of a sex that very seldom takes real
   trouble, that forgets the little necessities of time, that is by
   nature lazy. I never wanted really but one thing in my life and that
   I got. Any person inspecting 60 Overstrand Mansions may see that
   somewhat excitable thing--free of charge. In another person, whom
   with maddening jealousy I suspect of being some inches taller than I
   am, I believe I notice the same tendency towards monomania. He also,
   being as I have so keenly pointed out, male, he also--I think has
   only wanted one thing seriously in his life. He also has got it:
   another male weakness which I recognize with sympathy.

   All my reviewers call me frivolous. Do you think all this kind of
   thing frivolous? Damn it all (excuse me) what can one be but
   frivolous about serious things? Without frivolity they are simply too
   tremendous. That you, who, with your hair down your back, played at
   bricks with me in a house of which I have no memory except you and
   the bricks, that you should be taken by someone of my miserable
   sex--as you ought to be--what is one to say? I am not going to wish
   you happiness, because I am quite placidly certain that your
   happiness is inevitable. I know it because my wife is happy with me
   and the wild, weird, extravagant, singular origin of this is a
   certain enduring fact in my psychology which you will find paralleled

   God bless you, my dear girl.

   Yours ever,

Married in 1903, Annie and her husband took another flat in
Overstrand Mansions.

"Gilbert never cared what he wore," she writes. "I remember one night
when my husband and I were living in the same block of flats he came
in to ask me to go and sit with Frances who wasn't very well, while
he went down to the House to dine with Hugh Law--Gilbert was very
correctly dressed except for the fact that he had on one boot and one
slipper! I pointed it out to him, and he said: 'Do you think it
matters?' I told him I was sure Frances would not like him to go out
like that--the only argument to affect him! When he was staying with
me here in Vancouver, Dorothy Collins had to give him the once-over
before he went lecturing--they had left Frances in Palos Verdes as
she wasn't well."

In 1904, were published a monograph on Watts, _The Napoleon of
Notting Hill_, and an important chapter in a composite book, _England
a Nation_.

The _Watts_ is among the results of Gilbert's art studies. Its
reviewers admired it somewhat in the degree of their admiration
for the painter. But for a young man at that date to have seen the
principles of art he lays down meant rare vision. The portrait-painter,
he says, is trying to express the reality of the man himself but
"he is not above taking hints from the book of life with its
quaint old woodcuts." G.K. makes us see all the painter could have
thought or imagined as he sets us before "Mammon" or "Jonah" or
"Hope" and bids us read their legend and note the texture and lines
of the painting. His distinction between the Irish mysticism of Yeats
and the English mysticism of Watts is especially valuable, and the
book, perhaps even more than the _Browning_ or the _Dickens_,
manifests Gilbert's insight into the mind of the last generation. The
depths and limitations of the Victorian outlook may be read in _G. F.

The story of the writing of _The Napoleon_ was told me in part by
Frances, while part appeared in an interview* given by Gilbert, in
which he called it his first important book:

[* Quoted in _Chesterton_, by Cyril Clemens, pp. 16-17.]

   I was "broke"--only ten shillings in my pocket. Leaving my worried
   wife, I went down Fleet Street, got a shave, and then ordered for
   myself, at the Cheshire Cheese, an enormous luncheon of my favourite
   dishes and a bottle of wine. It took my all, but I could then go to
   my publishers fortified. I told them I wanted to write a book and
   outlined the story of "Napoleon of Notting Hill." But I must have
   twenty pounds, I said, before I begin.

   "We will send it to you on Monday."

   "If you want the book," I replied, "you will have to give it to me
   today as I am disappearing to write it." They gave it.

Frances meanwhile sat at home thinking, as she told me, hard thoughts
of his disappearance with their only remaining coin. And then
dramatically he appeared with twenty golden sovereigns and poured
them into her lap. Referring to this incident later, Gilbert said,
"What a fool a man is, when he comes to the last ditch, not to spend
the last farthing to satisfy the inner man before he goes out to
fight a battle with wits." But it was his way to let the money
shortage become acute and then deal with it abruptly. Frank
Swinnerton relates that when, as a small boy, he was working for J.
M. Dent, Gilbert appeared after office hours with a Dickens preface
but refused to leave it because Swinnerton, the only soul left in the
place, could not give him the agreed remuneration.

The _Napoleon_ is the story of a war between the London suburbs, and
grew largely from his meditations on the Boer War. Besides being the
best of his fantastic stories, it contains the most picturesque
account of Chesterton's social philosophy that he ever gave. But it
certainly puzzled some of the critics. One American reviewer feels
that he might have understood the book if he "had an intimate
knowledge of the history of the various boroughs of London and of
their present-day characteristics." Others treat the story as a mere
joke, and many feel that it is a bad descent after the _Browning_.
"Too infernally clever for anything," says one.

Auberon Quin, King of England, chosen by lot (as are all kings and
all other officials by the date of this story, which is a romance of
the future), is one of the two heroes of this book. He is simply a
sense of humour incarnate. His little elfish face and figure was
recognised by old Paulines as suggested by a form master of their
youth; but by the entire reviewing world as Max Beerbohm. The
illustrations by Graham Robertson were held to be unmistakably Max.
Frances notes in her diary:

   A delightful dinner party at the Lanes. . . . The talk was mostly
   about _Napoleon_. Max took me in to dinner and was really nice. He is
   a good fellow. His costume was extraordinary. Why should an evening
   waistcoat have four large white pearl buttons and why should he look
   that peculiar shape? He seems only pleased at the way he has been
   identified with King Auberon. "All right, my dear chap," he said to
   G., who was trying to apologize. "Mr. Lane and I settled it all at a
   lunch." I think he was a little put out at finding no red carpet put
   down for his royal feet and we had quite a discussion as to whether
   he ought to precede me into the dining room. Graham Robertson was on
   my left. He was jolly too, kept on producing wonderful rings and
   stones out of his pockets. He said he wished he could go about
   covered in the pieces of a chandelier. The other guests were lady
   Seton, Mrs. W. K. Clifford, Mr. W. W. Howells and his daughter (too
   Burne-Jonesy to be really attractive), Mr. Taylor (police
   magistrate), and Mrs. Eichholz (Mrs. Lane's mother) who is more
   beautiful than anything except a wee baby. In fact, she looks exactly
   like one, so dainty and small. She can never at any time have been as
   pretty as she is now.

   Gilbert and Max and I drove to his house (Max's), where he basely
   enticed us in. He gave me fearful preserved fruits which ruined my
   dress--but he made himself very entertaining. Home 1.30.

Caring for nothing in the world but a joke, King Auberon decrees that
the dull and respectable London boroughs shall be given city guards
in resplendent armour, each borough to have its own coat of arms, its
city walls, tocsin, and the like. The idea is taken seriously by the
second hero, Adam Wayne of Notting Hill, an enthusiast utterly
lacking any sense of humour, who goes to war with the other boroughs
of London to protect a small street which they have designed to pull
down in the interests of commercial development. Pimlico, Kensington
and the rest attack Notting Hill. Men bleed and die in the contest
and by the magic of the sword the old ideas of local patriotism and
beauty in civic life return to England. The conventional politician,
Barker, who begins the story in a frock-coat and irreproachable silk
hat, ends it clad in purple and gold.

When Notting Hill, become imperial minded, goes down to destruction
in a sea of blood, Auberon Quin confesses to Wayne that this whole
story, so full of human tragedy and hopes and fears, had been merely
the outcome of a joke. To him all life was a joke, to Wayne an epic;
and this antagonism between the humorist and the fanatic has created
the whole wild story. Wayne has the last word:

   "I know of something that will alter that antagonism, something
   that is outside us, something that you and I have all our lives
   perhaps taken too little account of. The equal and eternal human
   being will alter that antagonism, for the human being sees no real
   antagonism between laughter and respect, the human being, the common
   man, whom mere geniuses like you and me can only worship like a god.
   When dark and dreary days come, you and I are necessary, the pure
   fanatic, the pure satirist. We have between us remedied a great
   wrong. We have lifted the modern cities into that poetry which every
   one who knows mankind knows to be immeasurably more common than the
   commonplace. But in healthy people there is no war between us. We are
   but the two lobes of the brain of a ploughman. Laughter and love are
   everywhere. The cathedrals, built in the ages that loved God, are
   full of blasphemous grotesques. The mother laughs continually at the
   child, the lover laughs continually at the lover, the wife at the
   husband, the friend at the friend. Auberon Quin, we have been too
   long separated; let us go out together. You have a halberd and I a
   sword, let us start our wanderings over the world. For we are its two
   essentials. Come, it is already day."

   In the blank white light Auberon hesitated a moment. Then he made
   the formal salute with his halberd, and they went away together into
   the unknown world.

This is very important to the understanding of Chesterton. With him,
profound gravity and exuberant fooling were always intermingled and
some of his deepest thoughts are conveyed by a pun. He always claimed
to be intensely serious while hating to be solemn and it was a
mixture apt to be misunderstood. If gravity and humour are the two
lobes of the average man's brain, the average man does not bring them
into play simultaneously to anything like the extent that Chesterton

Auberon Quin and Adam Wayne are the most living individuals in any of
his novels--just because they are the two lobes of his brain
individualised. All his stories abound in adventure, are admirable in
their vivid descriptions of London or the countryside of France or
England seen in fantastic visions. They are living in the portrayal
of ideas by the road of argument. But the characters are chiefly
energies through whose lips Gilbert argues with Gilbert until some
conclusion shall be reached.

In 1905 came _The Club of Queer Trades_--least good of the
fantasia--and even admirers have begun to wonder if too many fields
are being tried; in 1906, _Dickens_ and _Heretics_.

It will remain a moot point whether the _Browning_ or the _Dickens_
is Chesterton's best work of literary criticism. The _Dickens_ is the
more popular, largely because Dickens is the more popular author.
Most Dickens idolators read anything about their idol if only for the
pleasure of the quotations. And no Dickens idolator could fail to
realise that here was one even more rapt in worship than himself.
After the publication of _Charles Dickens_, Chesterton undertook a
series of prefaces to the novels. In one of them he took the trouble
to answer one only of the criticisms the book had produced: the
comment that he was reading into the work of Dickens something that
Dickens did not mean.

   Criticism does not exist to say about authors the things that they
   knew themselves. It exists to say the things about them which they
   did not know themselves. If a critic says that the _Iliad_ has a
   pagan rather than a Christian pity, or that it is full of pictures
   made by one epithet, of course he does not mean that Homer could have
   said that. If Homer could have said that the critic would leave Homer
   to say it. The function of criticism, if it has a legitimate function
   at all, can only be one function--that of dealing with the
   subconscious part of the author's mind which only the critic can
   express, and not with the conscious part of the author's mind, which
   the author himself can express. Either criticism is no good at all (a
   very defensible position) or else criticism means saying about an
   author the very things that would have made him jump out of his

[* Introduction to "Old Curiosity Shop." Reprinted in _Criticisms and
Appreciations of the Works of Charles Dickens_, 1933 ed. pp. 51-2.]

He attended not at all to the crop of comments on his inaccuracies.
One reviewer pointed out that Chesterton had said that every postcard
Dickens wrote was a work of art; but Dickens died on June 9th, 1870
and the first British postcard was issued on October 1st, 1870. "A
wonderful instance of Dickens's never-varying propensity to keep
ahead of his age." After all, what did such things matter? Bernard
Shaw, however, felt that they did. He wrote a letter from which I
think Gilbert got an important hint, utilized later in his
introduction to _David Copperfield:_

   6th September, 1906.

   DEAR G.K.C.

   As I am a supersaturated Dickensite, I pounced on your book and
   read it, as Wegg read Gibbon and other authors, right slap through.

   In view of a second edition, let me hastily note for you one or two
   matters. First and chiefly, a fantastic and colossal howler in the
   best manner of Mrs. Nickleby and Flora Finching.

   There is an association in your mind (well founded) between the
   quarrel over Dickens's determination to explain his matrimonial
   difficulty to the public, and the firm of Bradbury and Evans. There
   is also an association (equally well founded) between B. & E. and
   Punch. They were the publishers of Punch. But to gravely tell the XX
   century that Dickens wanted to publish his explanation in Punch is
   gas and gaiters carried to an incredible pitch of absurdity. The
   facts are: B. & E. were the publishers of Household Words. They
   objected to Dickens explaining in H.W. He insisted. They said that in
   that case they must take H.W. out of his hands. Dickens, like a lion
   threatened with ostracism by a louse in his tail, published his
   explanation, which stands to this day, and informed his readers that
   they were to ask in future, not for Household Words, but for All the
   Year Round. Household Words, left Dickensless, gasped for a few weeks
   and died. All the Year Round, in exactly the same format, flourished
   and entered largely into the diet of my youth.

      *      *      *      *      *

   There is a curious contrast between Dickens's sentimental
   indiscretions concerning his marriage and his sorrows and quarrels,
   and his impenetrable reserve about himself as displayed in his
   published correspondence. He writes to his family about waiters,
   about hotels, about screeching tumblers of hot brandy and water, and
   about the seasick man in the next berth, but never one really
   intimate word, never a real confession of his soul. David Copperfield
   is a failure as an autobiography because when he comes to deal with
   the grown-up David, you find that he has not the slightest intention
   of telling you the truth--or indeed anything--about himself. Even the
   child David is more remarkable for the reserves than for the
   revelations: he falls back on fiction at every turn. Clennam and Pip
   are the real autobiographies.

   I find that Dickens is at his greatest after the social awakening
   which produced _Hard Times_. Little Dorrit is an enormous work. The
   change is partly the disillusion produced by the unveiling of
   capitalist civilization, but partly also Dickens's discovery of the
   gulf between himself as a man of genius and the public. That he did
   not realize this early is shown by the fact that he found out his
   wife _before he married her_ as much too small for the job, and yet
   plumbed the difference so inadequately that he married her thinking
   he could go through with it. When the situation became intolerable,
   he must have faced the fact that there was something more than
   "incompatibilities" between him and the average man and woman. Little
   Dorrit is written, like all the later books, frankly and somewhat
   sadly, _de haut en bas_. In them Dickens recognizes that quite
   everyday men are as grotesque as Bunsby. Sparkler, one of the most
   extravagant of all his gargoyles, is an untouched photograph almost.
   Wegg and Riderhood are sinister and terrifying because they are
   simply real, which Squeers and Sikes are not. And please remark that
   whilst Squeers and Sikes have their speeches written with anxious
   verisimilitude (comparatively) Wegg says, "Man shrouds and grapple,
   Mr. Venus, or she dies," and Riderhood describes Lightwood's sherry
   (when retracting his confession) as, "I will not say a hocussed wine,
   but a wine as was far from 'elthy for the mind." Dickens doesn't care
   what he makes Wegg or Riderhood or Sparkler or Mr. F's aunt say,
   because he knows them and has got them, and knows what matters and
   what doesn't. Fledgeby, Lammle, Jerry Cruncher, Trabbs's boy, Wopsle,
   etc. etc. are human beings as seen by a master. Swiveller and
   Mantalini are human beings as seen by Trabbs's boy. Sometimes
   Trabbs's boy has the happier touch. When I am told that young John
   Chivery (whose epitaphs you ignore whilst quoting Mrs. Sapsea's)
   would have gone barefoot through the prison against rules for little
   Dorrit had it been paved with red hot ploughshares, I am not so
   affected by his chivalry as by Swiveller's exclamation when he gets
   the legacy--"For she (the Marchioness) shall walk in silk attire and
   siller hae to spare." Edwin Drood is no good, in spite of the stone
   throwing boy, Buzzard and Honeythunder. Dickens was a dead man before
   he began it. Collins corrupted him with plots. And oh! the
   Philistinism; the utter detachment from the great human heritage of
   art and philosophy! Why not a sermon on that?


Note in the Introduction to _David Copperfield_ what G.K. says as to
the break between the two halves of the book. He calls it an instance
of weariness in Dickens--a solitary instance. Is not Shaw's
explanation at once fascinating and probable?

Kate Perugini, the daughter of Dickens, wrote two letters of immense
enthusiasm about the book saying it was the best thing written about
her father since Forster's biography. But she shatters the theory put
forth by Chesterton that Dickens thrown into intimacy with a large
family of girls fell in love with them all and happened unluckily to
marry the wrong sister. At the time of the marriage her mother, the
eldest of the sisters, was only eighteen, Mary between fourteen and
fifteen "very young and childish in appearance," Georgina eight and
Helen three! Nothing could better illustrate the clash between
enthusiasm and despair that fills a Chestertonian while reading any
of his literary biographies. For so much is built on this theory
which the slightest investigation would have shown to be baseless.

_Heretics_ aroused animosity in many minds. Dealing with Browning or
Dickens a man may encounter literary prejudices or enthusiasms, but
there is not the intensity of feeling that he finds when he gets into
the field with his own contemporaries. Reviewers who had been
extending a friendly welcome to a beginner found that beginner
attacking landmarks in the world of letters, venturing to detest
Ibsen and to ask William Archer whether he hung up his stocking on
Ibsen's birthday, accusing Kipling of lack of patriotism. It is, said
one angrily, "unbecoming to spend most of his time criticising his
contemporaries." "His sense of mental perspective is an extremely
deficient one." "The manufacture of paradoxes is really one of the
simplest processes conceivable." "Mr. Chesterton's sententious

In fact it was like the scene in _The Napoleon of Notting Hill_ when
most people present were purple with anger but an intellectual few
were purple with laughter. And even now most of the reviewers seemed
not to understand where G.K. stood or what was his philosophy.
"Bernard Shaw," says one, "whom _as a disciple_* he naturally
exalts." This, after a series of books in which G.K. had exposed,
with perfect lucidity and a wealth of examples, a view of life
differing from Shaw's in almost every particular. One reviewer
clearly discerned the influence of Shaw in _The Napoleon of Notting
Hill_, "but without a trace of Shaw's wonderful humour and

[* Italics mine.]

Belloc's approval was hearty. He wrote:

   I am delighted with what I have read in the _Daily Mail_. Hit them
   again. Hurt them. Continue to binge and accept my blessing. Give them
   hell. It is the only book of yours I have read right through. Which
   shows that I don't read anything. Which is true enough. This letter
   is written in the style of Herbert Paul. Continue to bang them about.

   You did wrong not to come to the South coast. Margate is a fraud.
   What looks like sea in front of it is really a bank with hardly any
   water over it. I stuck on it once in the year 1904 so I know all
   about it. Moreover the harbour at Margate is not a real harbour.
   Ramsgate round the corner has a real harbour on the true sea. In both
   towns are citizens not averse to bribes. Do not fail to go out in a
   boat on the last of the ebb as far as the Long Nose. There you will
   see the astonishing phenomenon of the tide racing down the North
   Foreland three hours before it has turned in the estuary of the
   Thames, which you at Margate foolishly believe to be the sea. Item no
   one in Margate can cook.

Gilbert was not really concerned in this book to bang his
contemporaries about so much as to study their mistakes and so
discover what was wrong with modern thought. Shaw, George Moore,
Ibsen, Wells, The Mildness of the Yellow Press, Omar and the Sacred
Vine, Rudyard Kipling, Smart novelists and the Smart Set, Joseph
McCabe and a Divine Frivolity--the collection was a heterogeneous
one. And in the introduction the author tells us he is not concerned
with any of these men as a brilliant artist or a vivid personality,
but "as a Heretic--that is to say a man whose view of things has the
hardihood to differ from mine . . . as a man whose philosophy is
quite solid, quite coherent and quite wrong. I revert to the
doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general
hope of getting something done."

In _England a Nation_ and even more in the study of Kipling in this
book there is one touch of inconsistency which we shall meet with
again in his later work. He hated Imperialism yet he glorified
Napoleon; himself ardently patriotic he accused Kipling of lack of
patriotism on the ground that a man could not at once love England
and love the Empire. For there was a curious note in the
anti-Imperialism of the Chesterbelloc that has not always been
recognised. The ordinary anti-Imperialist holds that England has no
right to govern an Empire and that her leadership is bad for the
other dominions. But the Chesterbelloc view was that the Dominions
were inferior and unworthy of a European England. The phrase "suburbs
of England" (quoted in a later chapter) was typical. But Kipling was
thrilled by those suburbs and Chesterton, who had as a boy admired
Kipling, attacks him in _Heretics_ for lack of patriotism. _Puck of
Pook's Hill_ was not yet written, but like Kipling's poem on Sussex
it expressed a patriotism much akin to Gilbert's own. Remember the
man who returned from the South African veldt to be the Squire's
gardener--"Me that have done what I've done, Me that have seen what
I've seen"--that man, with eyes opened to a sense of his own tragedy,
was speaking for Chesterton's people of England who "have not spoken
yet." Yes, they have spoken through the mouth of English genius: as
Langland's Piers Plowman, as Dickens's Sam Weller, but not least as
Kipling's Tommy Atkins. It was a pity Chesterton was deaf to this
last voice. With a better understanding of Kipling he might in turn
have made Kipling understand what was needed to make England "Merrie
England" once again, have given him the philosophy that should make
his genius fruitful.

For the huge distinction between Chesterton and most of his
contemporaries lay not in the wish to get something done but in the
conviction that the right philosophy alone could produce fruitful
action. A parable in the Introduction shows the point at which his
thinking had arrived.

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something,
let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull
down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is
approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of
the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value
of Light. If Light be in itself good." At this point he is somewhat
excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post,
the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about
congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as
things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled
the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some
because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness,
because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a
lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash
municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And
there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So,
gradually and inevitably, today, tomorrow, or the next day, there
comes back the conviction that the monk was Right after all, that all
depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have
discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.*

[* _Heretics_, pp. 22-3.]

Every year during this time at Battersea, the press books reveal an
increasing flood of engagements. Gilbert lectures for the New Reform
Club on "political watchwords," for the Midland Institute on "Modern
Journalism," for the Men's Meeting of the South London Central
Mission on "Brass Bands," for the London Association of Correctors of
the Press at the Trocadero, for the C.S.U. at Church Kirk,
Accrington, at the Men's Service in the Colchester Moot Hall. He
debates at the St. German's Literary Society, maintaining "that the
most justifiable wars are the religious wars"; opens the Anti-Puritan
League at the Shaftesbury Club, speaks for the Richmond and Kew
branch of the P.N.E.U. on "The Romantic Element in Morality," for the
Ilkley P.S.A., on "Christianity and Materialism," and so on without
end. All these are on a few pages of his father's collection,
interspersed with clippings recording articles in reviews
innumerable, introductions to books, interviews and controversies.

There was almost no element of choice in these engagements. G.K. was
intensely good-natured and hated saying No. He was the lion of the
moment and they all wanted him to roar for them. In spite of the
large heading, "Lest we forget," that met his eye daily in the
drawing-room, he did forget a great deal--in fact, friends say he
forgot any engagement made when Frances was not present to write it
down directly it was made. She had to do memory and all the practical
side of life for him. There might have been one slight chance of
making Gilbert responsible in these matters--that chance was given to
his parents and by them thrown away. How far it is even possible to
groom and train a genius is doubtful: anyhow no attempt was made.
Waited on hand and foot by his mother, never made to wash or brush
himself as a child, personally conducted to the tailor as he grew
older, given by his parents no money for which to feel responsible,
not made to keep hours--how could Frances take a man of twenty-seven,
and make him over again?

But there is, of course, a most genuine difficulty in all this, which
Gilbert once touched on when he denied the accusation of absence of
mind. It was, he claimed, presence of mind--on his thoughts--that
made him unaware of much else. And indeed no man can be using his
mind furiously in every direction at once. Anyone who has done even a
little creative work, anyone even who has lived with people who do
creative work, knows the sense of bewilderment with which the mind
comes out of the world of remoter but greater reality and tries to
adjust with that daily world in which meals are to be ordered,
letters answered, and engagements kept. What must this pain of
adjustment not have been to a mind almost continuously creative? For
I have never known anyone work such long hours with a mind at such
tension as Gilbert's.

There was no particular reason why he should have written his article
for the _Daily News_ as the reporter writes his--at top speed at a
late hour--but he usually did. The writing of it was left till the
last minute and, if at home, he would need Frances to get it off for
him before the deadline was reached. But he often wrote by preference
in Fleet Street--at the Cheshire Cheese or some little pub where
journalists gathered--and then he would hire a cab to take the
article a hundred yards or so to the _Daily News_ office.

The cab in those days was the hansom with its two huge wheels over
which one perilously ascended, while the driver sat above, only to be
communicated with by opening a sort of trap door in the roof. Gilbert
once said that the imaginative Englishman in Paris would spend his
days in a café, the imaginative Frenchman in London would spend his
driving in a hansom. In the _Napoleon_, the thought of the cab moves
him to write:

   Poet whose cunning carved this amorous cell
   Where twain may dwell.

E. V. Lucas, his daughter tells us, used to say that if one were
invited to drive with Gilbert in a hansom cab it would have to be two
cabs: but this is not strictly true. For in those days I drove with
Gilbert and Frances too in a hansom--he and I side by side, she on
his knee. We must have given to the populace the impression he says
any hansom would give on first view to an ancient Roman or a simple
barbarian--that the driver riding on high and flourishing his whip
was a conqueror carrying off his helpless victims.

Like the "buffers" at the Veneering election, he spent much of his
time "taking cabs and getting about"--or not even getting about in
them, but leaving them standing at the door for hours on end. Calling
on one publisher he placed in his hands a letter that gave excellent
reasons why he could not keep the engagement! The memory so admirable
in literary quotations was not merely unreliable for engagements but
even for such matters as street numbers and addresses. Edward
Macdonald, who worked with him later, on _G.K.'s Weekly_, relates how
some months after the paper had changed its address he failed one day
to turn up at a board meeting.

Finally he appeared with an explanation. On calling a taxi at
Marylebone he realized that he could not give the address, so he told
the driver to take him to Fleet Street. There as his memory still
refused to help, he stopped the taxi outside a tea-shop, left it
there while he was inside, and ordering a cup of tea began to turn
out all his pockets in the hope of finding a letter or a proof
bearing the address. Then as no clue could be found, he told the
driver to take him to a bookstall that stocked the paper. At the
first and second he drew blanks but at the third bought a copy of his
own paper and thus discovered the address.

I am not sure at what date he began to hate writing anything by hand.
My mother treasured two handwritten letters. I have none after a
friendship of close on thirty years. But I remember on his first
visit to my parents' home in Surrey his calling Frances that he might
dictate an article to her. His writing was pictorial and rather
elaborate. "He drew his signature rather than writing it," says
Edward Macdonald, who remembers him saying as he signed a cheque:
"'With many a curve my banks I fret.' I wonder if Tennyson fretted
his." At one of our earliest meetings I asked him to write in my
Autograph Book. It was at least five years before the _Ballad of the
White Horse_ appeared, but the lines may be found almost unchanged in
the ballad:

   (which you won't believe)

   People, if you have any prayers
   Say prayers for me.
   And bury me underneath a stone
   In the stones of Battersea.
   Bury me underneath a stone,
   With the sword that was my own;
   To wait till the holy horn is blown
   And all poor men are free.

The dream went on, he said, for pages and pages. And I think Frances
was anxious, for the mind must find rest in sleep.

The little flat at Battersea was a vortex of requests and
engagements, broken promises and promises fulfilled, author's ink and
printer's ink, speeches in prospect and speeches in memory, meetings
and social occasions. A sincere admirer wrote during this period of
his fears of too great a strain on his hero--and from 1904 to 1908
the only change was an increase of pressure:

   I see that Chesterton has just issued a volume on the art of G. F.
   Watts. His novel was published yesterday. Soon his monograph on
   Kingsley should be ready. I believe he has a book on some modern
   aspects of religious belief in the press. He is part-editor of the
   illustrated Booklets on great authors issued by the Bookman. He is
   contributing prefaces and introductions to odd volumes in several
   series of reprints. He is a constant contributor to the _Daily News_
   and the _Speaker_; he is conducting a public controversy with
   Blatchford of the _Clarion_ on atheism and free-thinking; he is
   constantly lecturing and debating and dining out; it is almost
   impossible to open a paper that does not contain either an article or
   review or poem or drawing of his, and his name is better known now to
   compositors than Bernard Shaw.

   Now, both physically and mentally Chesterton is a Hercules, and
   from what I hear of his methods of work he is capable of a great
   output without much physical strain; nevertheless, it is clear, I
   think to anyone that at his present rate of production he must either
   wear or tear. No man born can keep so many irons in the fire and not
   himself come between the hammer and the anvil. It is a pitiable thing
   to have a good man spend himself so recklessly; and I repeat once
   more that if he and his friends have not the will or power to
   restrain him, then there should be a conspiracy of editors and
   publishers in his favour. Not often is a man like Chesterton born. He
   should have his full chance. And that can only come by study and
   meditation, and by slow, steady accumulation of knowledge and wisdom.*

[* Shan F. Bullock in the _Chicago Evening Post_, 9th April, 1906.]

In a volume made up of Introductions written at this time to
individual novels of Dickens, we find a passage that might well be
Gilbert's summary of his own life:

   The calls upon him at this time were insistent and overwhelming;
   this necessarily happens at a certain stage of a successful writer's
   career. He was just successful enough to invite others and not
   successful enough to reject them . . . there was almost too much work
   for his imagination, and yet not quite enough work for his
   housekeeping. . . . And it is a curious tribute to the quite curious
   greatness of Dickens that in this period of youthful strain we do not
   feel the strain but feel only the youth. His own amazing wish to
   write equalled or outstripped even his readers' amazing wish to read.
   Working too hard did not cure him of his abstract love of work.
   Unreasonable publishers asked him to write ten novels at once; but he
   wanted to write twenty novels at once.

Thus too with Gilbert. The first eight years of his married life saw
in swift succession the publication of ten books comprising literary
and art criticism and biography, poetry, fiction (or rather fantasy),
light essays and religious philosophy. All these were so full at once
of the profound seriousness of youth, and of the bubbling wine of its
high spirits, as to recall another thing Gilbert said: that Dickens
was "accused of superficiality by those who cannot grasp that there
is foam upon deep seas." That was the matter in dispute about
himself, and very furiously disputed it was during these years. Was
G.K. serious or merely posing, was he a great man or a mountebank,
was he clear or obscure, was he a genius or a charlatan? "Audacious
reconciliation," he pleaded--or rather asserted, for his tone could
seldom be called a plea, "is a mark not of frivolity but of extreme

   A man who deals in harmonies, who only matches stars with angels,
   or lambs with spring flowers, he indeed may be frivolous; for he is
   taking one mood at a time, and perhaps forgetting each mood as it
   passes. But a man who ventures to combine an angel and an octopus
   must have some serious view of the universe. The man who should write
   a dialogue between two early Christians might be a mere writer of
   dialogues. But a man who should write a dialogue between an early
   Christian and the Missing Link would have to be a philosopher. The
   more widely different the types talked of, the more serious and
   universal must be the philosophy which talks of them. The mark of the
   light and thoughtless writer is the harmony of his subject matter;
   the mark of the thoughtful writer is its apparent diversity. The most
   flippant lyric poet might write a pretty poem about lambs; but it
   requires something bolder and graver than a poet, it requires an
   ecstatic prophet, to talk about the lion lylng down with the lamb.*

* G. K. Chesterton. _Criticisms and Appreciations of the World of
Charles Dickens_. Dent. 1933 pp. 68-9.

A man starting to write a thesis on Chesterton's sociology once
complained bitterly that almost none of his books were indexed, so
he had to submit to the disgusting necessity of reading them all
through, for some striking view on sociology might well be embedded
in a volume of art criticism or be the very centre of a fantastic
romance. Chesterton's was a philosophy universal and unified and it
was at this time growing fast and finding exceedingly varied
techniques of expression. But the whole of it was in a sense in each
of them--in each book, almost in each poem. As he himself says of the
universe of Charles Dickens, "there was something in it--there is in
all great creative writers--like the account in Genesis of the light
being created before the sun, moon and stars, the idea before the
machinery that made it manifest. Pickwick is in Dickens's career the
mere mass of light before the creation of sun or moon. It is the
splendid, shapeless substance of which all his stars are ultimately
made." And again, "He said what he had to say and yet not all he had
to say. Wild pictures, possible stories, tantalising and attractive
trains of thought, perspectives of adventure, crowded so continually
upon his mind that at the end there was a vast mass of them left
over, ideas that he literally had not the opportunity to develop,
tales that he literally had not the time to tell."


Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy

G. K. CHESTERTON: A CRITICISM (published anonymously in 1908) was a
challenge thrown to the world of letters, for it demanded the
recognition of Chesterton as a force to be reckoned with in the
modern world. As its title implied, the book was by no means a
tribute of sheer admiration and agreement. Gilbert was rebuked for
that love of a pun or an effective phrase that sometimes led him into
indefensible positions. It was hotly asked of him that he should
abandon his unjust attitude toward Ibsen. He was accused of calling
himself a Liberal and being in fact a Tory. But even in differing
from him the book showed him as of real importance, not least in the
sketch given of his life and of the influences that had contributed
to the formation of his mind. It did too another thing: it clarified
his philosophical position for the world at large. For some time now
many had been demanding such a clarification. When G.K. attacked the
Utopia of Wells and of Shaw, both Wells and Shaw had been urgent in
their demands that he should play fair by setting forth his own
Utopia. When he attacked the fundamental philosophy of G. S. Street,
Mr. Street retorted that it would be time for him to worry about his
philosophy when G.K.'s had been unfolded. (G.K.'s retort to this was

_G. K. Chesterton: a Criticism_--far the best book that has ever been
written about Chesterton--showed at last a mind that had really
grasped his philosophy and could even have outlined his Utopia.
Perhaps this was the less surprising as it ultimately turned out to
have been written by his brother Cecil.

I do not know at what stage Cecil revealed his authorship, but I
remember that at first Frances told me only that they suspected Cecil
because it was from the angle of his opinions that the book
criticised many of Gilbert's. However, I was at that date only an
acquaintance and the truth may still have been a family secret. At
any rate Cecil it was, and it is small wonder if after all those
years of arguing he understood something of the man with whom he had
been measuring forces. But he did better than that--for he explained
him to others without ever having resort to these arguments, which
after all were more or less private property. He explained G.K.'s
general philosophy from the _Napoleon_, his ideas of cosmic good from
_The Wild Knight_ and _The Man Who Was Thursday_, which had just been
published that same year, 1908.

In this last fantastic story the group of anarchists (distinguished
by being called after the days of the week) turn out, through a
series of incredible adventures to be, all save one, detectives in
disguise. The gigantic figure of Sunday before whom they all tremble
turns from the chief of the anarchists, chief of the destructive
forces, into--what? The sub-title, "A Nightmare," is needed, for
Sunday would seem to be some wild vision, seen in dreams, not merely
of forces of good, of sanity, of creation, but even of God Himself.

When, almost twenty years later, _The Man Who Was Thursday_ was
adapted for the stage,* Chesterton said in an interview:

[* By Ralph Neale and Mrs. Cecil Chesterton.]

   In an ordinary detective tale the investigator discovers that some
   amiable-looking fellow who subscribes to all the charities, and is
   fond of animals, has murdered his grandmother, or is a trigamist. I
   thought it would be fun to make the tearing away of menacing masks
   reveal benevolence.

   Associated with that merely fantastic notion was the one that there
   is actually a lot of good to be discovered in unlikely places, and
   that we who are fighting each other may be all fighting on the right
   side. I think it is quite true that it is just as well we do not,
   while the fight is on, know all about each other; the soul must be
   solitary; or there would be no place for courage.

   A rather amusing thing was said by Father Knox on this point. He
   said that he should have regarded the book as entirely pantheist and
   as preaching that there was good in everything if it had not been for
   the introduction of the one real anarchist and pessimist. But he was
   prepared to wager that if the book survives for a hundred years--which
   it won't--they will say that the real anarchist was put in afterwards
   by the priests.

   But, though I was more foggy about ethical and theological matters
   than I am now, I was quite clear on that issue; that there was a
   final adversary, and that you might find a man resolutely turned away
   from goodness.

   People have asked me whom I mean by Sunday. Well, I think, on the
   whole, and allowing for the fact that he is a person in a tale--I
   think you can take him to stand for Nature as distinguished from God.
   Huge, boisterous, full of vitality, dancing with a hundred legs,
   bright with the glare of the sun, and at first sight, somewhat
   regardless of us and our desires.

   There is a phrase used at the end, spoken by Sunday: "Can ye drink
   from the cup that I drink of?" which seems to mean that Sunday is
   God. That is the only serious note in the book, the face of Sunday
   changes, you tear off the mask of Nature and you find God.

Monsignor Knox* has called _The Man Who Was Thursday_ "an
extraordinary book, written as if the publisher had commissioned him
to write something rather like the Pilgrim's Progress in the style of
the Pickwick Papers"--which explains perhaps why some reviewers
called it irreverent. The very wildness of it conveys a sense of
thoughts seething and straining in an effort to express the
inexpressible. Later in his more definitely philosophical books G.K.
could say calmly much that here he splashes "on a ten leagued canvas
with brushes of comet's hair"--with all the violent directness of a

[* In the panegyric preached at Westminster Cathedral, June 27, 1936.]

Of that vision his brother began the interpretation in his
challenging book. Reactions were interesting, for even those who
wanted most ardently to say that Cecil's book should not have been
written found that it was necessary to say it loudly and to say it at
great length. Their very violence showed their sense of Chesterton as
a peril even when they abused anyone who felt him to be a portent. It
was not the kind of contempt that is really bestowed on the

The _Academy_ expended more than two columns saying;

   We propose to deal with the quack and leave his sycophants and
   lickspittles to themselves . . .

   One skips him in his numerous corners of third and fourth rate
   journals [e.g. _The Illustrated London News_, _The Bookman_, _Daily
   News_!] and one avoids his books because they are always and
   inevitably a bore.

Lancelot Bathurst had also dared to write of G.K. in his Daily life
as a journalist, so the article goes on:

   Let us kneel with the Hon. Lancelot at his greasy burgundy-stained
   shrine, what time the jingling hansom waits us with its rolling
   occupant and his sword-stick and his revolver and his pockets stacked
   with penny dreadfuls. . . .

   The fact is we have in Mr. Chesterton the true product of the
   deboshed hapenny press. . . . If the hapenny papers ceased to notice
   him forthwith it seems to us more than probable that he would cease
   at once to be of the highest importance in literary circles and the
   Bishops and Members of Parliament who have honoured him with their
   kind notice would be compelled to drop him. . . .

Most of the reviews were very different from this one, which is
certainly great fun (although some few other reviewers suggested
that Gilbert himself wrote the _Criticism_). I have wondered whether
the _Academy_ notices of his own books, all much like this, were
written by a personal enemy or merely by one of the "jolly people" as
he often called them who were maddened by his views.

For some years now Gilbert had been gathering in his mind the
material for _Orthodoxy_. Some of the ideas we have seen faintly
traced in the Notebook and _The Coloured Lands_, but they all grew to
maturity in the atmosphere of constant controversy. In a controversy
with the Rev. R. J. Campbell we see, for instance, his convictions
about the reality of sin shaping under our eyes. Discussing Modernism
in the _Nation_, he analyses the difference between the true
development of an idea and the mere changing from one idea to
another. Modernism claiming to be a development was actually an
abandonment of the Christian idea.

For the Catholic, this is among the most interesting of his
controversies. In the course of it he refers to "the earlier works of
Newman and the literature of the Oxford Movement" to support his view
of the Anglican position. I have already said that Chesterton read
far more than was usually supposed, because he read so quickly and
with so little parade of learning, and it has been too lightly
assumed that the statement in _Orthodoxy_ that he avoided works of
Christian Apologetic meant that he had not read any of the great
Christian writers of the past. True, he was not then or at any time
reading books of Apologetic. He must, however, have been reading
something more life-giving, as we learn from a single hint. Asked to
draw up a Scheme of Reading for 1908 in _G.K.'s Weekly_, he suggests
Butler's _Analogy_, Coleridge's _Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit_,
Newman's _Apologia_, St. Augustine's _Confessions_ and the _Summa_ of
St. Thomas Aquinas.

It was absurd, he said in this article, to suppose that the ancients
did not see our modern problems. The truth was that the great
ancients not only saw them, but saw through them. Butler had sketched
the "real line along which Christianity must ultimately be defended."
These great writers all remained modern, while the "New Theology"
takes one back to the time of crinolines. "I almost expect to see Mr.
R. J. Campbell in peg-top trousers, with very long side-whiskers."

In this controversy, although not yet a Catholic, he showed the gulf
between the Modernist theory of development and the Newman doctrine,
with a clarity greater than any Catholic writer of the time.

   A man who is always going back and picking to pieces his own first
   principles may be having an amusing time but he is not developing as
   Newman understood development. Newman meant that if you wanted a tree
   to grow you must plant it finally in some definite spot. It may be (I
   do not know and I do not care) that Catholic Christianity is just now
   passing through one of its numberless periods of undue repression and
   silence. But I do know this, that when the great Powers break forth
   again, the new epics and the new arts, they will break out on the
   ancient and living tree. They cannot break out upon the little shrubs
   that you are always pulling up by the roots to see if they are

Against R. J. Campbell he showed in a lecture on "Christianity and
Social Reform" how belief in sin as well as in goodness was more
favourable to social reform than was the rather woolly optimism that
refused to recognize evil. "The nigger-driver will be delighted to
hear that God is immanent in him. . . . The sweater that . . . he has
not in any way become divided from the supreme perfection of the
universe." If the New Theology would not lead to social reform, the
social Utopia to which the philosophy of Wells and of Shaw was
pointing seemed to Chesterton not a heaven on earth to be desired,
but a kind of final hell to be avoided, since it banished all freedom
and human responsibility. Arguing with them was again highly
fruitful, and two subjects he chose for speeches are suggestive--"The
Terror of Tendencies" and "Shall We Abolish the Inevitable?"

In the _New Age_ Shaw wrote about Belloc and Chesterton and so did
Wells, while Chesterton wrote about Wells and Shaw, till the
Philistines grew angry, called it self-advertisement and log-rolling
and urged that a Bill for the abolition of Shaw and Chesterton should
be introduced into Parliament. But G.K. had no need for advertisement
of himself or his ideas just then: he had a platform, he had an eager
audience. Every week he wrote in the _Illustrated London News_,
beginning in 1905 to do "Our Notebook" (this continued till his death
in 1936). He was still writing every Saturday in the _Daily News_.
Publishers were disputing for each of his books. Yet he rushed into
every religious controversy that was going on, because thereby he
could clarify and develop his ideas.

The most important of all these was the controversy with Blatchford,
Editor of the _Clarion_, who had written a rationalist Credo,
entitled _God and My Neighbour_. In 1903-4, he had the generosity and
the wisdom to throw open the _Clarion_ to the freest possible
discussion of his views. The Christian attack was made by a group of
which Chesterton was the outstanding figure, and was afterwards
gathered into a paper volume called _The Doubts of Democracy_.

One essay in this volume, written in 1903, is of primary importance
in any study of the sources of _Orthodoxy_, for it gives a brilliant
outline of one of the main contentions of the book and shows even
better than _Orthodoxy_ itself what he meant by saying that he had
first learnt Christianity from its opponents. It is clear that by now
he believed in the Divinity of Christ. The pamphlet itself has fallen
into oblivion and Chesterton's share of it was only three short
essays. I think it well to quote a good deal from the first of these,
because in it he has put in concentrated form and with different
illustrations what he developed five years later. There is nothing
more packed with thought in the whole of his writings than these

   The first of all the difficulties that I have in controverting Mr.
   Blatchford is simply this, that I shall be very largely going over
   his own ground. My favourite text-book of theology is _God and My
   Neighbour_, but I cannot repeat it in detail. If I gave each of my
   reasons for being a Christian, a vast number of them would be Mr.
   Blatchford's reasons for not being one.

   For instance, Mr. Blatchford and his school point out that there
   are many myths parallel to the Christian story; that there were Pagan
   Christs, and Red Indian Incarnations, and Patagonian Crucifixions,
   for all I know or care. But does not Mr. Blatchford see the other
   side of the fact? If the Christian God really made the human race,
   would not the human race tend to rumours and perversions of the
   Christian God? If the centre of our life is a certain fact, would not
   people far from the centre have a muddled version of that fact? If we
   are so made that a Son of God must deliver us, is it odd that
   Patagonians should dream of a Son of God?

   The Blatchfordian position really amounts to this--that because a
   certain thing has impressed millions of different people as likely or
   necessary, therefore it cannot be true. And then this bashful being,
   veiling his own talents, convicts the wretched G.K.C. of paradox . . .

   The story of a Christ is very common in legend and literature. So
   is the story of two lovers parted by Fate. So is the story of two
   friends killing each other for a woman. But will it seriously be
   maintained that, because these two stories are common as legends,
   therefore no two friends were ever separated by love or no two lovers
   by circumstances? It is tolerably plain, surely, that these two
   stories are common because the situation is an intensely probable and
   human one, because our nature is so built as to make them almost
   inevitable . . .

   Thus, in this first instance, when learned sceptics come to me and
   say, "Are you aware that the Kaffirs have a sort of Incarnation?" I
   should reply: "Speaking as an unlearned person, I don't know. But
   speaking as a Christian, I should be very much astonished if they

   Take a second instance. The Secularist says that Christianity has
   been a gloomy and ascetic thing, and points to the procession of
   austere or ferocious saints who have given up home and happiness and
   macerated health and sex. But it never seems to occur to him that the
   very oddity and completeness of these men's surrender make it look
   very much as if there were really something actual and solid in the
   thing for which they sold themselves. They gave up all pleasures for
   one pleasure of spiritual ecstasy. They may have been mad; but it
   looks as if there really were such a pleasure. They gave up all human
   experiences for the sake of one superhuman experience. They may have
   been wicked, but it looks as if there were such an experience.

   It is perfectly tenable that this experience is as dangerous and
   selfish a thing as drink. A man who goes ragged and homeless in order
   to see visions may be as repellant and immoral as a man who goes
   ragged and homeless in order to drink brandy. That is a quite
   reasonable position. But what is manifestly not a reasonable
   position, what would be, in fact, not far from being an insane
   position, would be to say that the raggedness of the man, and the
   stupefied degradation of the man, proved that there was no such thing
   as brandy. That is precisely what the Secularist tries to say. He
   tries to prove that there is no such thing as supernatural experience
   by pointing at the people who have given up everything for it. He
   tries to prove that there is no such thing by proving that there are
   people who live on nothing else.

   Again I may submissively ask: "Whose is the Paradox?" . . .

   Take a third instance. The Secularist says that Christianity
   produced tumult and cruelty. He seems to suppose that this proves it
   to be bad. But it might prove it to be very good. For men commit
   crimes not only for bad things, far more often for good things. For
   no bad things can be desired quite so passionately and persistently
   as good things can be desired, and only very exceptional men desire
   very bad and unnatural things.

   Most crime is committed because, owing to some peculiar
   complication, very beautiful or necessary things are in some
   danger . . .

   . . . And when something is set before mankind that is not only
   enormously valuable, but also quite new, the sudden vision, the
   chance of winning it, the chance of losing it, drive them mad. It has
   the same effect in the moral world that the finding of gold has in
   the economic world. It upsets values, and creates a kind of cruel

   We need not go far for instances quite apart from the instances of
   religion. When the modern doctrines of brotherhood and liberality
   were preached in France in the eighteenth century the time was ripe
   for them, the educated classes everywhere had been growing towards
   them, the world to a very considerable extent welcomed them. And yet
   all that preparation and openness were unable to prevent the burst of
   anger and agony which greets anything good. And if the slow and
   polite preaching of rational fraternity in a rational age ended in
   the massacres of September, what an _a fortiori_ is here! What would
   be likely to be the effect of the sudden dropping into a dreadfully
   evil century of a dreadfully perfect truth? What would happen if a
   world baser than the world of Sade were confronted with a gospel
   purer than the gospel of Rousseau?

   The mere flinging of the polished pebble of Republican idealism
   into the artificial lake of eighteenth century Europe produced a
   splash that seemed to splash the heavens, and a storm that drowned
   ten thousand men. What would happen if a star from heaven really fell
   into the slimy and bloody pool of a hopeless and decaying humanity?
   Men swept a city with the guillotine, a continent with a sabre,
   because Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity were too precious to be
   lost. How if Christianity was yet more maddening because it was yet
   more precious?

   But why should we labour the point when One who knew human nature
   as it can really be learnt, from fishermen and women and natural
   people, saw from his quiet village the track of this truth across
   history, and, in saying that He came to bring not peace but a sword,
   set up eternally His colossal realism against the eternal
   sentimentality of the Secularist?

   Thus, then, in the third instance, when the learned sceptic says:
   "Christianity produced wars and persecutions," we shall reply:

   And, lastly, let me take an example which leads me on directly to
   the general matter I wish to discuss for the remaining space of the
   articles at my command. The Secularist constantly points out that the
   Hebrew and Christian religions began as local things; that their god
   was a tribal god; that they gave him material form, and attached him
   to particular places.

   This is an excellent example of one of the things that if I were
   conducting a detailed campaign I should use as an argument for the
   validity of Biblical experience. For if there really are some other
   and higher beings than ourselves, and if they in some strange way, at
   some emotional crisis, really revealed themselves to rude poets or
   dreamers in very simple times, that these rude people should regard
   the revelation as local, and connect it with the particular hill or
   river where it happened, seems to me exactly what any reasonable
   human being would expect. It has a far more credible look than if
   they had talked cosmic philosophy from the beginning. If they had, I
   should have suspected "priestcraft" and forgeries and third-century

   If there be such a being as God, and He can speak to a child, and
   if God spoke to a child in the garden, the child would, of course,
   say that God lived in the garden. I should not think it any less
   likely to be true for that. If the child said: "God is everywhere; an
   impalpable essence pervading and supporting all constituents of the
   Cosmos alike"--if, I say, the infant addressed me in the above terms,
   I should think he was much more likely to have been with the
   governess than with God.

   So if Moses had said God was an Infinite Energy, I should be
   certain he had seen nothing extraordinary. As he said He was a
   Burning Bush, I think it very likely that he did see something
   extraordinary. For whatever be the Divine Secret, and whether or no
   it has (as all people have believed) sometimes broken bounds and
   surged into our world, at least it lies on the side furthest away
   from pedants and their definitions, and nearest to the silver souls
   of quiet people, to the beauty of bushes, and the love of one's
   native place.

   Thus, then, in our last instance (out of hundreds that might be
   taken), we conclude in the same way. When the learned sceptic says:
   "The visions of the Old Testament were local, and rustic, and
   grotesque," we shall answer: "Of course. They were genuine."

   Thus, as I said at the beginning, I find myself, to start with,
   face to face with the difficulty that to mention the reasons that I
   have for believing in Christianity is, in very many cases, simply to
   repeat those arguments which Mr. Blatchford, in some strange way,
   seems to regard as arguments against it. His book is really rich and
   powerful. He has undoubtedly set up these four great guns of which I
   have spoken. I have nothing to say against the size and ammunition of
   the guns. I only say that by some strange accident of arrangement he
   has set up those four pieces of artillery pointing at himself. If I
   were not so humane, I should say: "Gentlemen of the Secularist Guard,
   fire first."

He goes on in the next essay to talk of the positive arguments for
Christianity, of "this religious philosophy which was, and will be
again, the study of the highest intellects and the foundation of the
strongest nations, but which our little civilisation has for a while
forgotten." Very briefly he then deals with Determinism and Freewill,
the need for the Supernatural and the question of the Fall. Dealing
with the Fall he uses one of his most brilliant illustrations. We
speak, he says, of a manly man, but not of a whaley whale. "If you
wanted to dissuade a man from drinking his tenth whisky, you would
slap him on the back and say, 'Be a man.' No one who wished to
dissuade a crocodile from eating his tenth explorer would slap it on
the back and say, 'be a crocodile.' For we have no notion of a
perfect crocodile; no allegory of a whale expelled from his Whaley

Continuing the swift sketch of some elements of Christian theology,
Chesterton next deals with Miracles. While the development in
_Orthodoxy_ makes this section look very slight, there are passages
that make one realize the mental wealth of a man who could afford to
leave them behind and rush on. Blatchford had said that no English
judge would accept the evidence for the resurrection and G.K. answers
that possibly Christians have not all got "such an extravagant
reverence for English judges as is felt by Mr. Blatchford himself.
The experiences of the Founder of Christianity have perhaps left us
in a vague doubt of the infallibility of Courts of Law."

In reference to the many rationalists whose refusal to accept any
miracle is based on the fact that "Experience is against it," he
says: "There was a great Irish Rationalist of this school who when he
was told that a witness had seen him commit a murder said that he
could bring a hundred witnesses who had not seen him commit it."

The final essay on "The Eternal Heroism of the Slums" has two main
points. It begins with an acknowledgment of the crimes of Christians,
only pointing out that while Mr. Blatchford outlaws the Church for
this reason, he is prepared to invoke the State whose crimes are far
worse. But the most vigorous part of the essay is a furious attack on
determinism. Blatchford apparently held that bad surroundings
inevitably produced bad men. Chesterton had seen the heroism of the
poor in the most evil surroundings and was furious at "this
association of vice with poverty, the vilest and the oldest and the
dirtiest of all the stories that insolence has ever flung against the
poor." Men can and do lead heroic lives in the worst of circumstances
because there is in humanity a power of responsibility, there is
freewill. Blatchford, in the name of humanity, is attacking the
greatest of human attributes.

   More numerous than can be counted, in all the wars and persecutions
   of the world, men have looked out of their little grated windows and
   said, "at least my thoughts are free." "No, No," says the face of Mr.
   Blatchford, suddenly appearing at the window, "your thoughts are the
   inevitable result of heredity and environment. Your thoughts are as
   material as your dungeons. Your thoughts are as mechanical as the
   guillotine." So pants this strange comforter, from cell to cell.

   I suppose Mr. Blatchford would say that in his Utopia nobody would
   be in prison. What do I care whether I am in prison or no, if I have
   to drag chains everywhere. A man in his Utopia may have, for all I
   know, free food, free meadows, his own estate, his own palace. What
   does it matter? he may not have his own soul.

An architect once discoursed to me on the need of humility in face of
the material; the stone and marble of his building. Thus Chesterton
was humble before the reality he was seeking to interpret. Pride, he
once defined as "the falsification of fact by the introduction of
self." To learn, a man must "subtract himself from the study of any
solid and objective thing." This humility he had in a high degree and
also that rarer humility which saw his friends and his opponents
alike as his intellectual equals. "Almost anybody," Monsignor Knox
once said, "was an ordinary person compared with him." But this was
an idea that certainly never occurred to him.

The philosophy shaping into _Orthodoxy_ was stimulated by newspaper
controversy, and also by the talk in which Gilbert always delighted.
As I have noted he loved to listen and he was a little slow in
getting off the mark with his own contribution. Many years later an
American interviewer described him, when he did get going, as
answering questions in brief essays. Frank Swinnerton has admirably
described the manner of speech so well remembered by his friends:

   His speech is prefaced and accompanied by a curious sort of
   humming, such as one may hear when glee singers give each other the
   note before starting to sing. He pronounces the word "I" (without
   egotism) as if it were "Ayee," and drawls, not in the highly
   gentlemanly manner which Americans believe to be the English accent,
   and which many English call the Oxford accent, but in a manner
   peculiar to himself, either attractive or the reverse according to
   one's taste (to me attractive).*

[* _Georgian Scene_, p. 94.]

Even more attractive to most of us was his fashion of making us feel
that we had contributed something very worthwhile. He would take
something one had said and develop it till it shone and glowed, not
from its own worth but from what he had made of it. Almost anything
could thus become a starting point for a train of his best thought.
And the style disliked by some in his writings was so completely the
man himself that it was the same in conversation as in his books. He
would approach a topic from every side throwing light on those
contradictory elements that made a paradox. He himself had what he
attributes to St. Thomas--"that instantaneous presence of mind which
alone really deserves the name of wit." Asked once the traditional
question what single book he would choose if cast on a desert island,
he replied Thomas's _Guide to Practical Shipbuilding_.

In talk, as in his books, G.K. loved to play upon words, and
sometimes of course this was merely a matter of words and the puns
were bad ones. Once, for instance, after translating the French
phrase for playing truant as "he goes to the bushy school--or the
school among the bushes," he adds "not lightly to be confounded with
the Art School at Bushey." This is indefensible, but rare.
Christopher Morley has noted how "his play upon words often led to a
genuine play upon thoughts. . . . One of Chesterton's best
pleasantries was his remark on the so-called Emancipation of Women.
'Twenty million young women rose to their feet with the cry _We will
not be dictated to:_ and proceeded to become stenographers.'" He
complained in a review of a novel "Every modern man is an atlas
carrying the world; and we are introduced to a new cosmos with every
new character. . . . Each man has to be introduced accompanied by his
cosmos, like a jealous wife or on the principle of 'love me love my

Each of Chesterton's readers can think of a hundred instances of this
inspired fooling: many have been given in this book and many will yet
be given. But the thing went far deeper than fooling: it has been
compared by Mr. Belloc to the gospel parables as a method of teaching
and of illumination. "He made men see what they had not seen before.
He made them _know_. He was an architect of certitude, whenever he
practiced the art in which he excelled."

Belloc's analysis of this special element in Chesterton's style,
alike written and spoken, is of first rate importance to an
understanding of the man whose mind at this date was still rapidly
developing while his method of expression had become what it remained
to the end of his life.

   His unique, his capital, genius for illustration by parallel, by
   example, is his peculiar mark. The word "peculiar" is here the
   operative word. . . . No one whatsoever that I can recall in the
   whole course of English letters had his amazing--I would almost say
   superhuman--capacity for parallelism.

   Now parallelism is a gift or method of vast effect in the
   conveyance of truth.

   Parallelism consists in the illustration of some unperceived truth
   by its exact consonance with the reflection of a truth already known
   and perceived . . .

   Whenever Chesterton begins a sentence with, "It is as though" (in
   exploding a false bit of reasoning), you may expect a stroke of
   parallelism as vivid as a lightning flash.

   . . . Always, in whatever manner he launched the parallelism, he
   produced the shock of illumination. He _taught_.

   Parallelism was so native to his mind; it was so naturally a fruit
   of his mental character that he had difficulty in understanding why
   others did not use it with the same lavish facility as himself.

   I can speak here with experience, for in these conversations with
   him or listening to his conversation with others I was always
   astonished at an ability in illustration which I not only have never
   seen equalled, but cannot remember to have seen attempted. He never
   sought such things; they poured out from him as easily as though they
   were not the hard forged products of intense vision, but spontaneous

[* _On the Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters_, pp. 36-41.]

To return to the Blatchford controversy: a final point of interest is
a psychological one. G.K. admits his difficulty in using in his
arguments the reverent solemnity of the Agnostic. He realizes that he
is thought flippant because he is amusing on a subject where he is
more certain than "of the existence of the moon. . . . Christianity
is itself so jolly a thing that it fills the possessor of it with a
certain silly exuberance, which sad and high-minded Rationalists
might reasonably mistake for mere buffoonery." But if this is his own
psychology he faces too the special difficulty of theirs--the main
and towering barrier that he wished but hardly hoped to surmount. He
was the first person, I think, to see that Free Thought was no longer
a young movement, but old and even fossilized. It had formed minds
which were now too set to be altered. It had its own dogmas and its
own most rigid orthodoxy. "You are armed to the teeth," he told the
readers of the _Clarion_, "and buttoned up to the chin with the great
agnostic Orthodoxy, perhaps the most placid and perfect of all the
orthodoxies of men. . . . I approach you with the reverence and the
courage due to a bench of bishops."

The _Clarion_ controversy was, as we have seen, in 1903 and
1904, when Chesterton was approaching thirty. Others of those
I have mentioned came later. But I don't think any or even all
of them fully explain the depth and richness of _Orthodoxy_.



_Philosophy is either eternal or it is not philosophy. . . . A cosmic
philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is
constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private
religion than he can possess a private sun and moon_.

_Introduction to the Book of Job_.

BECAUSE _Orthodoxy_ is supremely Chesterton's own history of his mind
more must be said of it than of his other published works. For "This
book is the life of a man. And a man is his mind." The Notebook shows
him thinking and feeling in his youth exactly on the lines that he
recalls--but they were only lines--in fact an outline. The richness
of life was needed, the richness of thought, to turn the outline into
the masterpiece. No man, not even Chesterton, could have written
_Orthodoxy_ at the age of twenty. It was sufficiently remarkable that
he should have written it at thirty-five: but only a man who had been
thinking along those lines at twenty and much earlier could have
written it at all. For the book is as he says "a sort of slovenly
autobiography." It is not so much an argument for Orthodoxy as the
story of how one man discovered Orthodoxy as the only answer to the
riddle of the universe.

In an interview, given shortly after its publication, Gilbert told of
a temptation that had once been his and which he had overcome almost
before he realized he had been tempted. That temptation was to become
a prophet like all the men in _Heretics_, by emphasizing one aspect of
truth and ignoring the others. To do this would, he knew, bring him a
great crowd of disciples. He had a vision--which constantly grew
wider and deeper--of the many-sided unity of Truth, but he saw that
all the prophets of the age, from Walt Whitman and Schopenhauer to
Wells and Shaw, had become so by taking one side of truth and making
it all of truth. It is so much easier to see and magnify a part than
laboriously to strive to embrace the whole:

   . . . a sage feels too small for life,
   And a fool too large for it.

Not that he condemned as fools the able men of his generation. For
Wells he had a great esteem, for Shaw a greater. Whitman he had in
his youth almost idolized. But increasingly he recognized even
Whitman as representing an idea that was too narrow because it was
only an aspect. There was not room in Whitman's philosophy for some
of the facts he had already discovered and he felt he had not yet
completed his journey. He must not, for the sake of being a prophet
and of having a following, sacrifice--I will not say a truth already
found, but a truth that might still be lurking somewhere. He could
not be the architect of his own intellectual universe any more than
he had been the creator of sun, moon and earth. "God and humanity
made it," he said of the philosophy he discovered, "and it made me."

He had begun in boyhood, as we have seen, by realizing that the world
as depicted in fairy tales was saner and more sensible than the world
as seen by the intellectuals of his own day. These men had lost the
sense of life's value. They spoke of the world as a vast place
governed by iron laws of necessity. Chesterton felt in it the
presence of will, while the mere thought of vastness was to him about
as cheerful a conception as that of a jail that should with its cold
empty passages cover half the county. "These expanders of the
universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite
corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that was

   These people professed that the universe was one coherent thing;
   but they were not fond of the universe. But I was frightfully fond of
   the universe and wanted to address it by a diminutive. I often did
   so; and it never seemed to mind. Actually and in truth I did feel
   that these dim dogmas of vitality were better expressed by calling
   the world small than by calling it large. For about infinity there
   was a sort of carelessness which was the reverse of the fierce and
   pious care which I felt touching the pricelessness and the peril of
   life. They showed only a dreary waste; but I felt a sort of sacred
   thrift. For economy is far more romantic than extravagance. To them
   stars were an unending income of halfpence; but I felt about the
   golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has one
   sovereign and one shilling.

   These subconscious convictions are best hit off by the colour and
   tone of certain tales. Thus I have said that stories of magic alone
   can express my sense that life is not only a pleasure but a kind of
   eccentric privilege. I may express this other feeling of cosmic
   cosiness by allusion to another book always read in boyhood,
   "Robinson Crusoe," which I read about this time, and which owes its
   eternal vivacity to the fact that it celebrates the poetry of limits,
   nay, even the wild romance of prudence. Crusoe is a man on a small
   rock with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing
   in the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck. The
   greatest of poems is an inventory. . .

   I really felt (the fancy may seem foolish) as if all the order and
   number of things were the romantic remnant of Crusoe's ship. That
   there are two sexes and one sun, was like the fact that there were
   two guns and one axe. It was poignantly urgent that none should be
   lost; but somehow, it was rather fun that none could be added. The
   trees and the planets seemed like things saved from the wreck: and
   when I saw the Matterhorn I was glad that it had not been overlooked
   in the confusion. I felt economical about the stars as if they were
   sapphires (they are called so in Milton's Eden): I hoarded the hills.
   For the universe is a single jewel, and while it is a natural cant to
   talk of a jewel as peerless and priceless, of this jewel it is
   literally true. This cosmos is indeed without peer and without price:
   for there cannot be another one.*

[* _Orthodoxy_, Chapter IV, pp. 112-5.]

A fragment of an essay on Hans Anderson that cannot be later than the
age of seventeen shows Gilbert trying to shape part of what he calls
here, "The Ethics of Elfland," but a large part was, as he says,
"subconscious." In this chapter he sums up the results of musings
about the universe begun so long ago--small wonder that he had seemed
to sleep over his lessons while he was seeing these visions and
dreaming these dreams which after every effort to tell them he still
knows remains half untold:

   . . . the attempt to utter the unutterable things. These are my
   ultimate attitudes towards life; the soils for the seeds of doctrine.
   These in some dark way I thought before I could write, and felt
   before I could think; that we may proceed more easily afterwards, I
   will roughly recapitulate them now. I felt in my bones; first, that
   this world does not explain itself. It may be a miracle with a
   supernatural explanation; it may be a conjuring trick, with a natural
   explanation. But the explanation of the conjuring trick, if it is to
   satisfy me, will have to be better than the natural explanations I
   have heard. The thing is magic, true or false. Second, I came to feel
   as if magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have some one to
   mean it. There was something personal in the world, as in a work of
   art; whatever it meant it meant violently. Third, I thought this
   purpose beautiful in its old design, in spite of its defects, such as
   dragons. Fourth, that the proper form of thanks to it is some form of
   humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by
   not drinking too much of them. We owed, also, an obedience to
   whatever made us. And last, and strangest, there had come into my
   mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a
   remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin. Man
   had saved his good as Crusoe saved his goods; he had saved them from
   a wreck. All this I felt and the age gave me no encouragement to feel
   it. And all the time I had not even thought of Christian theology.*

[* Ibid., pp. 155-6.]

This theology came with the answers to all the tremendous questions
asked by life. Here the convert has one great advantage over the
Catholic brought up in the Faith. Most of us hear the answers before
we have asked the questions: hence intellectually we lack what G.K.
calls "the soils for the seeds of doctrine." It is nearly impossible
to understand an answer to a question you have not formulated. And
without the sense of urgency that an insistent question brings, many
people do not even try. All the years of his boyhood and early
manhood Chesterton was facing the fundamental questions and hammering
out his answers. At first he had no thought of Christianity as even a
possible answer. Growing up in a world called Christian, he fancied
it a philosophy that had been tried and found wanting. It was only as
he realized that the answers he was finding for himself always fitted
into, were always confirmed by, the Christian view of things that he
began to turn towards it. He sees a good deal of humour in the way he
strained his voice in a painfully juvenile attempt to utter his new
truths, only to find that they were not his and were not new, but
were part of an eternal philosophy.

In the chapter called "The Flag of the World" he tells of the moment
when he discovered the confirmation and reinforcing of his own
speculations by the Christian theology. The point at which this came
concerned his feelings about the men of his youth who labelled
themselves Optimist and Pessimist. Both, he felt, were wrong. It must
be possible at once to love and to hate the world, to love it more
than enough to get on with it, to hate it enough to get it on. And
the Church solved this difficulty by her doctrine of creation and of
Original Sin. "God had written not so much a poem, but rather a play;
a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left
to human actors and stage-managers who had since made a great mess of

As to that mess the Christian could be as pessimist as he liked, as
to the original design he must be optimist, for it was his work to
restore it. "St. George could still fight the dragon . . . if he were
as big as the world he could yet be killed in the name of the world."

   And then followed an experience impossible to describe. It was as
   if I had been blundering about since my birth with two huge and
   unmanageable machines, of different shapes and without apparent
   connection--the world and the Christian tradition. I had found this
   hole in the world: the fact that one must somehow find a way of
   loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must love the world
   without being worldly. I found this projecting feature of Christian
   theology, like a sort of hard spike, the dogmatic insistence that God
   was personal, and had made a world separate from Himself. The spike
   of dogma fitted exactly into the hole in the world--it had evidently
   been meant to go there--and then the strange thing began to happen.
   When once these two parts of the two machines had come together, one
   after another, all the other parts fitted and fell in with an eerie
   exactitude. I could hear bolt after bolt over all the machinery
   falling into its place with a kind of click of relief. Having got one
   part right, all the other parts were repeating that rectitude, as
   clock after clock strikes noon. Instinct after instinct was answered
   by doctrine after doctrine. Or, to vary the metaphor, I was like one
   who had advanced into a hostile country to take one high fortress.
   And when that fort had fallen the whole country surrendered and
   turned solid behind me. The whole land was lit up, as it were, back
   to the first fields of my childhood. All those blind fancies of
   boyhood which in the fourth chapter I have tried in vain to trace on
   the darkness, became suddenly transparent and sane. I was right when
   I felt that I would almost rather say that grass was the wrong colour
   than say that it must by necessity have been that colour: it might
   verily have been any other. My sense that happiness hung on the crazy
   thread of a condition did mean something when all was said: it meant
   the whole doctrine of the Fall. Even those dim and shapeless monsters
   of notions which I have not been able to describe, much less defend,
   stepped quietly into their places like colossal caryatides of the
   creed. The fancy that the cosmos was not vast and void, but small and
   cosy, had a fulfilled significance now, for anything that is a work
   of art must be small in the sight of the artist; to God the stars
   might be only small and dear, like diamonds. And my haunting instinct
   that somehow good was not merely a tool to be used, but a relic to be
   guarded, like the goods from Crusoe's ship--even that had been the
   wild whisper of something originally wise, for, according to
   Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a
   golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.*

[* _Orthodoxy_, Chapter V, pp. 142-4.]

In a chapter called "The Paradoxes of Christianity," the richness of
his mind is most manifest; and in that chapter can best be seen what
Mr. Belloc meant when he told me Chesterton's style reminded him of
St. Augustine's. Talking over with an old schoolfellow of his the
list of books he had, as we have seen, drawn up for _T.P.'s Weekly_,
I discovered deep doubt as to whether Gilbert would really have read
these books, as most of us understand reading, combined with a
conviction that he would have got out of them at a glance more than
most of us by prolonged study. I have certainly never known anyone
his equal at what the schoolboy calls "degutting" a book. He did not
seem to study an author, yet he certainly knew him.

But it remained that his own mind, reflecting and experiencing, made
of his own life his greatest storehouse, so that in all this book
there was, as my father pointed out in the _Dublin Review_ at the
time, an intensely original new light cast on the eternal philosophy
about which so much had already been written. The discovery specially
needed, perhaps, for his own age was that Christianity represented a
new balance that constituted a liberation. The ancient Greek or
Roman had aimed at equilibrium by enforcing moderation and getting
rid of extremes. Christianity "made moderation out of the still crash
of two impetuous emotions." It "got over the difficulty of combining
furious opposites by keeping them both, and keeping them both
furious." "The more I considered Christianity, the more I felt
that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of
that order was to give room for good things to run wild." Thus
inside Christianity the pacifist could become a monk, and the
warrior a Crusader, St. Francis could praise good more loudly
than Walt Whitman, and St. Jerome denounce evil more darkly than
Schopenhauer--but both emotions must be kept in their place. I
remember how George Wyndham laughed as he recited to us the paragraph
where this idea reached its climax.

   And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and
   justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was
   fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the
   lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is
   constantly assumed, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when
   the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that
   is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is
   simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the
   lamb. The real problem is--can the lion lie down with the lamb and
   still retain his royal ferocity? _That_ is the problem the Church
   attempted; _that_ is the miracle she achieved.*

[* _Orthodoxy_, Chapter VI, pp. 178-9.]

All this applied not only to the release of the emotions, the
development of all the elements that go to make up humanity, but even
more to the truths of Revelation. A heresy always means lopping off a
part of the truth and, therefore, ultimately a loss of liberty.
Orthodoxy, in keeping the whole truth, safeguarded freedom and
prevented any one of the great and devouring ideas she was teaching
from swallowing any other truth. This was the justification of
councils, of definitions, even of persecutions and wars of religion:
that they had stood for the defence of reason as well as of faith.
They had stood to prevent the suicide of thought which must result if
the exciting but difficult balance were lost that had replaced the
classical moderation.

   The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth on some
   things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the
   irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and
   some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep
   the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers,
   of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong
   enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world. Remember
   that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; she was a
   lion tamer. The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of
   a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfilment of
   prophecies, are ideas which, any one can see, need but a touch to
   turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious. . . . A sentence
   phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the
   best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the
   dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter
   eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, even in order
   that man might enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be
   careful, if only that the world might be careless.

   This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into
   a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum,
   and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as
   orthodoxy. It was sanity; and to be sane is more dramatic than to be
   mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses,
   seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude
   having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The
   Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet
   it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one
   idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so as
   exactly to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge
   bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make
   Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid
   an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox
   Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the
   orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to
   have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been
   easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the
   bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is
   easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head;
   the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a
   modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of
   those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after
   fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of
   Christendom--that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple
   to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one
   at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from
   Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and
   tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure;
   and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the
   ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth
   reeling but erect.*

[* _Orthodoxy_, Chapter VI, pp. 182-5.]

No quotation can adequately convey the wealth of thought in the book.
Yet amazingly, the _Times_ reviewer rebuked G.K. for substituting
emotion for intellect, partly on the strength of a sentence in the
chapter called "The Maniac." "The madman is the man who has lost
everything except his reason." The reviews, when one reads them as a
whole, exactly confirm what Wilfrid Ward said in the _Dublin Review:_
that whereas he had regarded _Orthodoxy_ as a triumphant vindication
of his own view that G.K. was a really profound thinker, he found to
his amazement that those who had thought him superficial, hailed it
as a proof of theirs.

Obviously with a man so much concerned with ultimates the place
accorded him in letters will depend upon whether one agrees or
disagrees with his conclusions. In a country that is not Catholic
this consideration must affect the standing of any Catholic thinker.
Thus Newman was considered by Carlyle to have "the brain of a
moderate sized rabbit," yet by others his is counted the greatest
mind of the century. Similarly Arnold Bennett could credit Chesterton
with only a second-class intellectual apparatus--because he was a
dogmatist. To this Chesterton replied (in _Fancies versus Facts_):
"In truth there are only two kinds of people, those who accept dogmas
and know it and those who accept dogmas and don't know it. My only
advantage over the gifted novelist lies in my belonging to the former
class." If one grasps the Catholic view of dogma the answer is
satisfying; if not the objector is left with his original
objection--as against Chesterton, as against Newman. And Chesterton
had the extra disadvantage of being a journalist famous for his jokes
now moving in Newman's unquestioned field of philosophy and theology.
It was in part the difficulty of convincing a man against his will.
These critics, as Wilfrid Ward pointed out, read superficially and
looked only at the fooling, the fantastic puns and comparisons,
ignoring the underlying deep seriousness and lines of thought that
made him, as it then seemed boldly, rank Chesterton with such writers
as Butler, Coleridge and Newman. Taking as his text the saying,
"Truth can understand error, but error cannot understand truth,"
Wilfrid Ward called his article, "Mr. Chesterton among the Prophets."

He showed especially the curious confusion made in such comments as
the one I have quoted from the _Times_, and made clearer what
Chesterton was really saying by a comparison with the "illative
sense" of Cardinal Newman. It is the usual difficulty of trying to
express a partly new idea. Newman had coined an expression, but it
did not express all he meant, still less all that Chesterton meant.
Yet it was difficult to use the word "reason" in this particular
discussion, without giving to it two different meanings. For in two
chapters, "The Maniac" and "The Suicide of Thought," Chesterton was
concerned to show that Authority was needed for the defence of reason
(in the larger sense) against its own power of self-destruction. Yet
the maniac commits this suicide by an excessive use of reason (in the
narrower sense). "He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by
charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more
logical for losing certain sane affections. . . . He is in the clean
and well-lit prison of one idea: he is sharpened to one painful

To Chesterton it seemed that most of the modern religions and
philosophies were like the argument by which a madman suffering from
persecution mania proves that he is in a world of enemies: it is
complete, it is unanswerable, yet it is false. The madman's mind
"moves in a perfect but narrow circle. . . . The insane explanation
is quite as complete as the sane one, only it is not so large. . . .
There is such a thing as a narrow universality; there is such a thing
as a small and cramped eternity; you may see it in many modern
   religions." Philosophies such as Materialism, Idealism, Monism, all
have in their explanations of the universe this quality of the
madman's argument of "covering everything and leaving everything
out." The Materialist, like the Madman is "unconscious of the alien
energies and the large indifference of the earth; he is not thinking
of the real things of the earth, of fighting peoples or proud mothers
or first love or fear upon the sea. The earth is so very large and
the cosmos is so very small."

People sometimes say, "life is larger than logic," when they want to
dismiss logic, but that was not Chesterton's way. He wanted logic, he
needed logic, as part of the abundance of the mind's life, as part of
a much larger whole. What was the word--we are looking for it
still--for a use of the mind that included all these things; logic
and imagination, mysticism and ecstasy and poetry and joy; a use of
the mind that could embrace the universe and reach upwards to God
without losing its balance. The mind must work in time, yet it can
reach out into Eternity: it is conditioned by space but it can
glimpse infinity. The modern world had imprisoned the mind. Far more
than the body it needed great open spaces. And Chesterton, breaking
violently out of prison, looked around and saw how the Church had
given health to the mind by giving it space to move in and great
ideas to move among. Chesterton, the poet, saw too that man is a poet
and must therefore, "get his head into the heavens." He needs
mysticism and among Her great ideas, the Church gives him mysteries.


Bernard Shaw

_This chapter was read by G.B.S. His remarks are printed in
footnotes. [A facsimile of the] one page altered substantially by him
is [omitted in this plain-text electronic edition]_.

WHEN ANYONE IN the early years of the century made a list of the
English writers most in the public eye, such a list always included
the names of Bernard Shaw and G. K. Chesterton. But a good many
people in writing down these names did so with unconcealed irritation
and I think it is important at this stage to see why.

These men were constantly arguing with each other; but the literary
public felt all the same that they represented something in common,
and the literary public was by no means sure that it liked that
something. It could not quite resist Bernard Shaw's plays; it loved
Chesterton whenever it could rebuke him affectionately for paradox
and levity. What that public succumbed to in these men was their art:
it was by no means so certain that it liked their meaning. And so the
literary public elected to say that Shaw and Chesterton were having a
cheap success by standing on their heads and declaring that black was
white. The audience watched a Shaw v. Chesterton debate as a sham
fight or a display of fireworks, as indeed it always partly was; for
each of them would have died rather than really hurt the other. But
Shaw and Chesterton were operating on their minds all the time. They
were allowed to sit in the stalls and applaud. But they were
themselves being challenged; and that spoilt their comfort.

Chesterton in his _Autobiography_ complains of the falsity of most of
the pictures of England during the Victorian era. The languishing,
fainting females, who were in fact far stronger-minded than their
grand-daughters today, the tyrannical pious fathers, the dull
conventional lives: it all rings false to anyone who grew up in an
average Victorian middle-class home and was happy enough there. There
was, however, one thing fundamentally wrong in such homes; and it was
on this fundamental sin that he agreed with Shaw in waging a
relentless war.

The middle classes of England were thoroughly and smugly satisfied
with social conditions that were intolerable for the great mass of
their fellow countrymen. They had erected between the classes
artificial barriers and now did not even look over the top of them. I
remember how when my mother started a settlement in South London the
head worker told us she often saw women groping in the dirt under the
fish barrows for the heads and tails of fishes to boil for their
children. The settlement began to give the children dinners of
dumplings or rice pudding and treacle, and many well-to-do friends
would give my mother a pound or so to help this work. But the
suggestion that government should intervene was Socialism: the idea
that here was a symptom of a widespread evil, was scouted utterly.
People might have learnt much from their own servants of how the rest
of humanity were living, but while, said Chesterton, they laughed at
the idea of the mediaeval baron whose vassals ate below the salt,
their own vassals ate and lived below the floor. At no time in the
Christian past had there been such a deep and wide cleavage in

The first thing that G.K.C. and G.B.S., Wells too, and Belloc, were
all agreed upon was that the upper and middle classes of England must
be reminded, if need were by a series of earthquakes, that they were
living in an unreal world. They had forgotten the human race to which
they belonged. They, a tiny section, spoke of the mass of mankind as
"the poor" or "the lower orders" almost as they might speak of the
beasts of the forest, as beings of a different race. Chesterton had a
profound and noble respect for the poor: Shaw declared that they were
"useless, dangerous, and ought to be abolished." But for both men,
the handful of quarrelsome cliques called the literary world was far
too small, because it was so tiny a section of the human race.

Shaw and Chesterton had, in fact, discovered the social problem.
Today, whether people intend to do anything about it or not, it is
impossible to avoid knowing something about it. But at that date the
idea was general that all was as well as could be expected in an
imperfect world. The trades unionists were telling a different story,
but they could not hope to reach intellectually the classes they were
attacking. Here were men who could not be ignored, and I cannot but
think that it was sometimes the mere utterance of unwelcome truth in
brilliant speech that aroused the cry of "paradox."

   I hear many people [wrote Chesterton], complain that Bernard Shaw
   deliberately mystifies them. I cannot imagine what they mean; it
   seems to me that he deliberately insults them. His language,
   especially on moral questions, is generally as straight and solid as
   that of a bargee and far less ornate and symbolic than that of a
   hansom-cabman. The prosperous English Philistine complains that Mr.
   Shaw is making a fool of him. Whereas Mr. Shaw is not in the least
   making a fool of him; Mr. Shaw is, with laborious lucidity, calling
   him a fool. G.B.S. calls a landlord a thief; and the landlord,
   instead of denying or resenting it, says, "Ah, that fellow hides his
   meaning so cleverly that one can never make out what he means, it is
   all so fine-spun and fantastical." G.B.S. calls a statesman a liar to
   his face, and the statesman cries in a kind of ecstasy, "Ah, what
   quaint, intricate and half-tangled trains of thought! Ah, what
   elusive and many-coloured mysteries of half-meaning!" I think it is
   always quite plain what Mr. Shaw means, even when he is joking, and
   it generally means that the people he is talking to ought to howl
   aloud for their sins. But the average representative of them
   undoubtedly treats the Shavian meaning as tricky and complex, when it
   is really direct and offensive. He always accuses Shaw of pulling his
   leg, at the exact moment when Shaw is pulling his nose.*

[* _George Bernard Shaw_, pp. 82-3.]

Chesterton was, however, in agreement with the ordinary citizen and
in disagreement with Shaw as to much of Shaw's essential teaching.
And here we touch a matter so involved that even today it is hard to
disentangle it completely. I suppose it will always be possible for
two observers to look at human beings acting, to hear them talking,
and to arrive at two entirely different interpretations of what they
mean. This is certainly the case with any very recent period, and
perhaps especially with our own recent history. We have within living
memory ended a period and begun an exceedingly different period, and
we tend to judge the former by the light--or the darkness--of the
latter. The Victorian age, even in its extreme old age, was still
tacitly assuming and legally enforcing as axioms the Christian moral
system, especially in regard to marriage and all sex questions, and
the sacred nature of property. To read many disquisitions on that
period today one would suppose that no one living really believed in
these things: that humbug explained the first and greed the second.

This is surely a false perspective. The age was an enormously
conventional one: these fundamental ideas had become fossilized and
meaningless for an increasing number of younger people. But when
Bernard Shaw called himself an atheist out of a kind of insane
generosity towards Bradlaugh (see his letter to G.K. later in this
chapter) or described all property as theft, it was a real moral
indignation that was roused in many minds. Real, but exceedingly
confused. It testified to the need of the ordinary man to live by a
creed that he need not question. Shaw and Chesterton were
philosophers, and philosophers love asking questions as well as
answering them. But the average man wants to live by his creed, not
question it, and the elder Victorians had still some kind of creed.

There were many who believed in God. There were others who believed
that the Christian moral system must remain, because it had commended
itself to man's nature as the highest and best and was the true fruit
of evolutionary progress. There were certainly some who were angry
because they thought chaos must follow any tampering with the
existing social order. But if you take the mass of those who tried to
laugh Bernard Shaw aside and grew angry when they could not do so,
you find at the root of the anger an intense dislike of having any
part of a system questioned which was to them unquestionable, which
they had erected into a creed. They thought Shaw's ideas dangerous
and wanted to keep them from the young. They did not want anyone to
ask how a civilisation had laid its principles open to this brilliant
and effective siege. They hated Shaw's questions before they began to
hate his answers. And that is probably why so many linked Chesterton
with Shaw--he gave different answers, but he was asking many of the
same questions. He questioned everything as Shaw did--only he pushed
his questions further: they were deeper and more searching. Shaw
would not accept the old Scriptural orthodoxy; G.K. refused to accept
the new Agnostic orthodoxy; neither man would accept the orthodoxy of
the scientists; both were prepared to attack what Butler had called
"the science ridden, art ridden, culture ridden, afternoon-tea ridden
cliffs of old England."

They attacked first by the mere process of asking questions; and the
world thus questioned grew uneasy and seemed to care curiously little
for the fact that the two questioners were answering their own
questions in an opposite fashion. Where Shaw said: "Give up
pretending you believe in God, for you don't," Chesterton said:
"Rediscover the reasons for believing or else our race is lost."
Where Shaw said: "Abolish private property which has produced this
ghastly poverty," Chesterton said: "Abolish ghastly poverty by
restoring property."

And the audience said: "these two men in strange paradoxes seem to us
to be saying the same thing, if indeed they are saying anything at
all." Chesterton wrote later of a young man whose aunt "had
disinherited him for Socialism because of a lecture he had delivered
against that economic theory"; and I well remember how often after my
own energetic attempts to explain why a Distributist was not a
Socialist, I was met with a weary, "Well, it's just the same." It was
just the same question; it was an entirely different answer, but the
audience, annoyed by the question, never seemed to listen to the
answer. One man was saying: "Sweep away the old beliefs of humanity
and start fresh"; the other was saying: "Rediscover your reasons for
these profound beliefs, make them once more effective, for they are
of the very nature of man."

Shaw and Chesterton were themselves deeply concerned about the
answers. Both sincere, both dealing with realities, they were
prepared to accept each other's sincerity and to fight the matter
out, if need were, endlessly. Being writers they conducted their
discussions in writing: being journalists they did so mainly in the
newspapers, to the delight or fury of other journalists. A jealous
few were enraged at what they called publicity hunting, but most
realised that it was not a private fight. Anyone might join in and a
good many did.

Belloc was in the fight as early as Chesterton, and of course, on the
same side. G.B.S. who had invented "The Chesterbelloc" declared that
Chesterton felt obliged to embrace the dogmas of Catholicism lest
Belloc's soul should be damned. H. G. Wells agreed in the main with
Shaw: both were Fabians and both were ready with a Fabian Utopia for
humanity, which Belloc and Chesterton felt would be little better
than a prison. Cecil Chesterton, coming in at an angle of his own,
wrote some effective articles. He was a Fabian--actually an official
Fabian--but his outlook already embraced many of the Chesterbelloc
human and genial ideals, although he still ridiculed their Utopia of
the peasant state, small ownership and all that came later to be
called Distributism. Like the _Clarion_, the _New Age_ (itself a
Socialist paper) saw the wisdom of giving a platform to both sides,
and in this paper appeared the best articles that the controversy

Meanwhile the private friendship between G.B.S. and G.K.C. was
growing apace. Very early on, Shaw had begun to urge G.K. to write a
play. G.K. was, perhaps, beginning to feel that newspaper controversy
did not give him space to say all he wanted about Shaw (or perhaps it
was merely that Messrs. Lane had persuaded him to promise them a book
on Shaw for a series they were producing!). Anyhow, in a letter of
1908, Shaw again urges the play and gives interesting information for
the book.

   Ayot St. Lawrence, Welwyn, Herts.
   1st March 1908.


   What about that play? It is no use trying to answer me in The New
   Age: the real answer to my article is the play. I have tried fair
   means: The New Age article was the inauguration of an assault below
   the belt. I shall deliberately destroy your credit as an essayist, as
   a journalist, as a critic, as a Liberal, as everything that offers
   your laziness a refuge, until starvation and shame drive you to
   serious dramatic parturition. I shall repeat my public challenge to
   you; vaunt my superiority; insult your corpulence; torture Belloc; if
   necessary, call on you and steal your wife's affections by
   intellectual and athletic displays, until you contribute something to
   the British drama. You are played out as an essayist: your ardor is
   soddened, your intellectual substance crumbled, by the attempt to
   keep up the work of your twenties in your thirties. Another five
   years of this; and you will be the apologist of every infamy that
   wears a Liberal or Catholic mask. You, too, will speak of the
   portraits of Vecelli and the Assumption of Allegri, and declare that
   Democracy refuses to lackey-label these honest citizens as Titian and
   Correggio. Even that colossal fragment of your ruined honesty that
   still stupendously dismisses Beethoven as "some rubbish about a
   piano" will give way to remarks about "a graceful second subject in
   the relative minor." Nothing can save you now except a rebirth as a
   dramatist. I have done my turn; and I now call on you to take yours
   and do a man's work.

   It is my solemn belief that it was my Quintessence of Ibsenism that
   rescued you and all your ungrateful generation from Materialism and
   Rationalism.* You were all tired young atheists turning to Kipling
   and Ruskinian Anglicanism whilst I, with the angel's wings beating in
   my ears from Beethoven's 9th symphony (oh blasphemous Walker in
   deafness), gave you in 1880 and 1881 two novels in which you had your
   Rationalist-secularist hero immediately followed by my Beethovenian
   hero. True, nobody read them; but was that my fault? They are read
   now, it seems, mostly in pirated reprints, in spite of their
   appalling puerility and classical perfection of style (you are right
   as to my being a born pedant, like all great artists); and are at
   least useful as documentary evidence that I was no more a materialist
   when I wrote _Love Among the Artists_ at 24 than when I wrote
   _Candida_ at 39.

[* Cecil avowed this as far as he was concerned. G.B.S.]

   My appearances on the platform of the Hall of Science were three
   in number. Once for a few minutes in a discussion, in opposition to
   Bradlaugh, who was defending property against Socialism. Bradlaugh
   died after that, though I do not claim to have killed him. The
   Socialist League challenged him to debate with me at St. James's
   Hall; but we could not or would not agree as to the proposition to be
   debated, he insisting on my being bound by all the publications of
   the Democratic Federation (to which I did not belong) and I refusing
   to be bound by anything on earth or in heaven except the proposition
   that Socialism would benefit the English people. And so the debate
   never came off.

   Now in those days they were throwing Bradlaugh out of the House of
   Commons with bodily violence; and all one could do was to call
   oneself an atheist all over the place, which I accordingly did. At
   the first public meeting of the Shelley Society at University
   College, addressed by Stopford Brooke, I made my then famous (among
   100 people) declaration "I am a Socialist, an Atheist and a
   Vegetarian" (ergo, a true Shelleyan) whereupon two ladies who had
   been palpitating with enthusiasm for Shelley under the impression
   that he was a devout Anglican, resigned on the spot.

   My second Hall of Science appearance was after the last of the
   Bradlaugh-Hyndman debates at St. James's Hall, where the two
   champions never touched the ostensible subject of their
   difference--the Eight Hours Day--at all, but simply talked Socialism
   or Anti-Socialism with a hearty dislike and contempt for one another.
   G. V. Foote was then in his prime as the successor of Bradlaugh; and
   as neither the Secularists nor the Socialists were satisfied with the
   result of the debate, it was renewed for two nights at the Hall of
   Science between me and Foote. A verbatim report was published for
   sixpence and is now a treasure of collectors. Having the last word on
   the second night, I had to make a handsome wind-up; and the
   Secularists were much pleased by my declaring that I was altogether
   on Foote's side in his struggle with the established religion of the

   When Bradlaugh died, the Secularists wanted a new leader, because
   B.'s enormous and magnetic personality left a void that nobody was
   big enough to fill--it was really like the death of Napoleon in that
   world. There was J. M. Robertson, Foote, and Charles Watts. But
   Bradlaugh liked Foote as little as most autocrats like their
   successors; and when he, before his death surrendered the gavel (the
   hammer for thumping the table to secure order at a meeting) which was
   the presidential sceptre of the National Secular Society, he did so
   with an ill will which he did not attempt to conceal; and so though
   Foote was the nearest size to Bradlaugh's shoes then available, he
   succeeded him at the disadvantage of inheriting the distrust of the
   old chief. J. M. Robertson you know: he was not a mob orator. Watts
   was not sufficient: he had neither Foote's weight (being old) nor
   Robertson's scholarship.

   So whilst the survivors of Bradlaugh were trying to keep up the
   Hall of Science and to establish a memorial library, etc. there, they
   cast round for new blood. What more natural than that they should
   think of me as a man not afraid to call himself an atheist and able
   to hold his own on the platform? Accordingly, they invited me to
   address them; and one memorable night I held forth on Progress in
   Freethought. I was received with affectionate hope; and when the
   chairman announced that I was giving my share of the gate to the
   memorial library (I have never taken money for lecturing) the
   enthusiasm was quite touching. The anti-climax was super-Shavian. I
   proceeded to smash materialism, rationalism, and all the philosophy
   of Tyndall, Helmholtz, Darwin and the rest of the 1860 people into
   smithereens. I ridiculed and exposed every inference of science, and
   justified every dogma of religion, especially showing that the
   Trinity and the Immaculate Conception were the merest common sense.
   That finished me up as a possible leader of the N.S.S. Robertson came
   on the platform, white with honest Scotch Rationalist rage, and
   denounced me with a fury of conviction that startled his own
   followers. Never did I grace that platform again. I repeated the
   address once to a branch of the N.S.S. on the south side of the
   Thames--Kensington, I think--and was interrupted by yells of rage
   from the veterans of the society. The Leicester Secularists, a pious
   folk, rich and independent of the N.S.S., were kinder to me; but they
   were no more real atheists than the congregation of St. Paul's is
   made wholly of real Christians.

   Foote is still bewildered about me, imagining that I am a pervert.
   But anybody who reads my stuff from the beginning (a Shelleyan
   beginning, as far as it could be labelled at all) will find implicit,
   and sometimes explicit, the views which, in their more matured form,
   will appear in that remarkable forthcoming masterpiece, "Shavianism:
   a Religion."

   By the way, I have omitted one more appearance at the Hall of
   Science. At a four nights' debate on Socialism between Foote and Mrs.
   Besant, I took the chair on one of the nights.

   I take advantage of a snowy Sunday afternoon to scribble all this
   down for you because you are in the same difficulty that beset me
   formerly: namely, the absolute blank in the history of the immediate
   past that confronts every man when he first takes to public life.
   Written history stops several decades back; and the bridge of
   personal recollection on which older men stand does not exist for the
   recruit. Nothing is more natural than that you should reconstruct me
   as the last of the Rationalists (his real name is Blatchford); and
   nothing could be more erroneous. It would be much nearer the truth to
   call me, in that world, the first of the mystics.

   If you can imagine the result of trying to write your spiritual
   history in complete ignorance of painting, you will get a notion of
   trying to write mine in ignorance of music. Bradlaugh was a
   tremendous platform heavyweight; but he had never in his life, as far
   as I could make out, seen anything, heard anything or read anything
   in the artistic sense. He was almost beyond belief incapable of
   intercourse in private conversation. He could tell you his adventures
   provided you didn't interrupt him (which you were mostly afraid to
   do, as the man was a mesmeric terror); but as to exchanging ideas, or
   expressing the universal part of his soul, you might as well have
   been reading the letters of Charles Dickens to his family--those
   tragic monuments of dumbness of soul and noisiness of pen. Lord help
   you if you ever lose your gift of speech, G.K.C.! Don't forget that
   the race is only struggling out of its dumbness, and that it is only
   in moments of inspiration that we get out a sentence. All the rest is

   Yours ever

In the book on Shaw which appeared in August 1909, G.K. did as he had
done with his other literary studies: gave (inaccurately) only as
much biography as seemed absolutely necessary, and mainly discussed
ideas. He saw Shaw as an Irishman, yet lacking the roots of
nationality since he belonged to a mainly alien governing class. He
saw him as a Puritan yet without the religious basis of Puritanism.
And thirdly, he saw him as so swift a progressive as to be ahead of
his own thought and ready to slay it in the name of progress.

All these elements in Shaw made for strength but also created
limitations, "Shaw is like the Venus of Milo; all that there is of
him is admirable." Where he fails is in being unable to see and
embrace the full complexity of life. "His only paradox is to pull out
one thread or cord of truth longer and longer into waste and
fantastic places. He does not allow for that deeper sort of paradox
by which two opposite cords of truth become entangled in an
inextricable knot. Still less can he be made to realise that it is
often this knot which ties safely together the whole bundle of human
life . . . here lies the limitation of that lucid and compelling
mind; he cannot quite understand life, because he will not accept its
contradictions." Humanity is built of these contradictions, therefore
Shaw pities humanity more than he loves it. "It was his glory that he
pitied animals like men; it was his defect that he pitied men almost
too much like animals. Foulon said of the democracy, 'Let them eat
grass.' Shaw said, 'Let them eat greens.' He had more benevolence but
almost as much disdain."

As a vegetarian and a water drinker Shaw himself lacked, in
Chesterton's eyes, something of complete humanity. And in discussing
social problems he was more economist than man. "Shaw (one might
almost say) dislikes murder, not so much because it wastes the life
of the corpse as because it wastes the time of the murderer." This
lack of the full human touch is felt, even in the plays, because Shaw
cannot be irrational where humanity always is irrational. In
_Candida_ "It is completely and disastrously false to the whole
nature of falling in love to make the young Eugene complain of the
cruelty which makes Candida defile her fair hands with domestic
duties. No boy in love with a beautiful woman would ever feel
disgusted when she peeled potatoes or trimmed lamps. He would like
her to be domestic. He would simply feel that the potatoes had become
poetical and the lamps gained an extra light. This may be irrational;
but we are not talking of rationality, but of the psychology of first
love.* It may be very unfair to women that the toil and triviality of
potato-peeling should be seen through a glamour of romance; but the
glamour is quite as certain a fact as the potatoes. It may be a bad
thing in sociology that men should deify domesticity in girls as
something dainty and magical; but all men do. Personally I do not
think it a bad thing at all; but that is another argument."**

[* No two love affairs are the same. This sentence assumed that they
are all the same. To Eugene, the poet living in a world of
imagination and abhorring reality, Candida was what Dulcinea was to
Don Quixote. G.B.S.]

[** _George Bernard Shaw_, pp. 120-1.]

Yet Shaw's limitations are those of a great man and a genius. In an
age of narrow specialism he has "stood up for the fact that
philosophy is not the concern of those who pass through Divinity and
Greats, but of those who pass through birth and death." In an age
that has almost chosen death, "Shaw follows the banner of life; but
austerely, not joyously." Nowhere, in dealing with Shaw's philosophy,
does Chesterton note his debt to Butler. Shaw has himself mentioned
it, and no reader of Butler could miss it, especially in this matter
of the Life Force. It is the special paradox of our age, Chesterton
notes, that the life force should thus need assertion and can thus be
followed without joy.

   To every man and woman, bird, beast, and flower, life is a
   love-call to be eagerly followed. To Bernard Shaw it is merely a
   military bugle to be obeyed. In short, he fails to feel that the
   command of Nature (if one must use the anthropomorphic fable of
   Nature instead of the philosophic term God) can be enjoyed as well as
   obeyed. He paints life at its darkest and then tells the babe unborn
   to take the leap in the dark. That is heroic; and to my instinct at
   least Schopenhauer looks like a pigmy beside his pupil. But it is the
   heroism of a morbid and almost asphyxiated age. It is awful to think
   that this world which so many poets have praised has even for a time
   been depicted as a man-trap into which we may just have the manhood
   to jump. Think of all those ages through which men have talked of
   having the courage to die. And then remember that we have actually
   fallen to talking of having the courage to live.*

[* _George Bernard Shaw_. Week-End Library, p. 190.]

Here comes the great parting of the two men's thought. G.K. believed
in God and in joy. But he saw that Shaw had much of value for this
strange diseased world. His primary value was not merely (as some
said) that he woke it up. The literary world might not be awake to
the social evil, but it was painfully awake to the ills, real or
imaginary, inherent in human life.

   We do not need waking up; rather we suffer from insomnia, with all
   its results of fear and exaggeration and frightful waking dreams. The
   modern mind is not a donkey which wants kicking to make it go on. The
   modern mind is more like a motor-car on a lonely road which two
   amateur motorists have been just clever enough to take to pieces but
   are not quite clever enough to put together again.*

[Ibid., pp. 245-6.]

Shaw had not merely asked questions of the age: that would have been
worse than useless. What he had done was at moments to rise above his
own thoughts and give, through his characters, inspired answers: G.K.
instances _Candida_, with its revelation of the meaning of marriage
when the woman stays with the strong man because he is so weak and
needs her. And Shaw had brought back philosophy into drama--that is,
he had recreated the atmosphere, lost since Shakespeare,* in which
men were thinking, and might, therefore, find the answers that the
age needed. And here again we come back to the world which these men
were shaking and to the respective philosophies with which they
looked at it. It was a world of conventions and these conventions had
become empty of meaning. Throw them away, said Shaw and Wells; no,
said Chesterton; keep them and look for their meaning; Revolution
does not mean destruction: it means restoration.

[* Hard on Goethe and Ibsen, to say nothing of Mozart's Magic Flute
and Beethoven's 9th symphony. G.B.S.]

The same sort of discussion buzzed around this book as around the
controversies of which it might be called a prolongation. Shaw
himself reviewed it in an article in the _Nation_, in which he called
it, "the best work of literary art I have yet provoked. . . .
Everything about me which Mr. Chesterton had to divine he has divined
miraculously. But everything that he could have ascertained easily by
reading my own plain directions on the bottle, as it were, remains
for him a muddled and painful problem." From an interchange of
private letters it would seem that the move to Beaconsfield took
place later in this year than I had supposed. Bernard Shaw's letter
is probably not written many days after an undated one to him from

   48, Overstrand Mansions,
   Battersea Park. S.W.


   I trust our recent tournaments have not rendered it contrary to the
   laws of romantic chivalry (which you reverence so much) for me to
   introduce to you my friend Mr. Pepler, who is a very nice man indeed
   though a social idealist, and who has, I believe, something of a
   practical sort to ask of you. Please excuse abruptness in this letter
   of introduction; we are moving into the country and every piece of
   furniture I begin to write at is taken away and put into a van.

   Always yours sincerely,

   10, Adelphi Terrace, W.C.
   30th October 1909.


   I saw your man and consoled him spiritually; but that is not the
   subject of this letter. I still think that you could write a useful
   sort of play if you were started. When I was in Kerry last month I
   had occasionally a few moments to spare; and it seemed to me quite
   unendurable that you should be wasting your time writing books about
   me. I liked the book very much, especially as it was so completely
   free from my own influence, being evidently founded on a very hazy
   recollection of a five-year-old perusal of Man and Superman; but a
   lot of it was fearful nonsense. There was one good thing about the
   scientific superstition which you came a little too late for. It
   taught a man to respect facts. You have no conscience in this
   respect; and your punishment is that you substitute such dull
   inferences as my "narrow puritan home" for delightful and fantastic
   realities which you might very easily have ascertained if you had
   taken greater advantage of what is really the only thing to be said
   in favour of Battersea; namely, that it is within easy reach of
   Adelphi Terrace. However, I have no doubt that when Wilkins Micawber
   junior grew up and became eminent in Australia, references were made
   to his narrow puritan home; so I do not complain. If you had told the
   truth, nobody would have believed it.

   Now to business. When one breathes Irish air, one becomes a
   practical man. In England I used to say what a pity it was you did
   not write a play. In Ireland I sat down and began writing a scenario
   for you. But before I could finish it I had come back to London; and
   now it is all up with the scenario: in England I can do nothing but
   talk. I therefore now send you the thing as far as I scribbled it;
   and I leave you to invent what escapades you please for the hero, and
   to devise some sensational means of getting him back to heaven again,
   unless you prefer to end with the millennium in full swing.*

[* The scenario dealt with the return of St. Augustine to the England
he remembered converting.]

   But experience has made me very doubtful of the efficacy of help as
   the means of getting work out of the right sort of man. When I was
   young I struck out one invaluable rule for myself, which was,
   Whenever you meet an important man, contradict him. If possible,
   insult him. But such a rule is one of the privileges of youth. I no
   longer live by rules. Yet there is one way in which you may possibly
   be insultable. It can be plausibly held that you are a venal ruffian,
   pouring forth great quantities of immediately saleable stuff, but
   altogether declining to lay up for yourself treasures in heaven. It
   may be that you cannot afford to do otherwise. Therefore I am quite
   ready to make a deal with you.

   A full length play should contain about 18,000 words (mine
   frequently contain two or three times that number). I do not know
   what your price per thousand is. I used to be considered grossly
   extortionate by Massingham and others for insisting on £3. 18,000
   words at £3 per thousand is £54. I need make no extra allowance for
   the republication in book form, because even if the play aborted as
   far as the theatre is concerned, you could make a book of it all the
   same. Let us assume that your work is worth twice as much as mine;
   this would make £108. I have had two shockingly bad years of it
   pecuniarily speaking, and am therefore in that phase of extravagance
   which straitened means have always produced in me. Knock off 8% as a
   sort of agent's commission to me for starting you on the job and
   finding you a theme. This leaves £100. I will pay you £100 down on
   your contracting to supply me within three months with a mechanically
   possible, i.e., stageable drama dealing with the experiences of St.
   Augustine after re-visiting England. The literary copyright to be
   yours, except that you are not to prevent me making as many copies as
   I may require for stage use. The stage right to be mine; but you are
   to have the right to buy it back from me for £250 whenever you like.*
   The play, if performed, to be announced as your work and not as a
   collaboration. All rights which I may have in the scenario to go with
   the stage right and literary copyright as prescribed as far as you
   may make use of it. What do you say? There is a lot of spending in

[* I could not very well offer him £100 as a present. G.B.S.]

   One condition more. If it should prove impossible to achieve a
   performance otherwise than through the Stage Society (which does not
   pay anything), a resort to that body is not to be deemed a breach of
   the spirit of our agreement.

   Do you think it would be possible to make Belloc write a comedy? If
   he could only be induced to believe in some sort of God instead of in
   that wretched little conspiracy against religion which the pious
   Romans have locked up in the Vatican, one could get some drive into
   him. As it is, he is wasting prodigious gifts in the service of King
   Leopold and the Pope and other ghastly scarecrows. If he must have a
   Pope, there is quite a possible one at Adelphi Terrace.

   For the next few days I shall be at my country quarters, Ayot St.
   Lawrence, Welwyn, Herts. I have a motor car which could carry me on
   sufficient provocation as far as Beaconsfield; but I do not know how
   much time you spend there and how much in Fleet Street. Are you only
   a week-ender; or has your wise wife taken you properly in hand and
   committed you to a pastoral life.

   Yours ever,

   P.S. Remember that the play is to be practical (in the common
   managerial sense) only in respect of its being mechanically
   possible as a stage representation. It is to be neither a
   likely-to-be-successful play nor a literary lark: it is to be
   written for the good of all souls.

Among the reviewers of the book, our old friend, the _Academy_,
surprised me by hating Shaw so much more than Chesterton that the
latter came off quite lightly. There was a good deal of the usual
misunderstanding and lists were made of self-contradictions on the
author's part. Still in the main the press was sympathetic and even
enthusiastic. But when Shaw reviewed Chesterton on Shaw, more than
one paper waxed sarcastic on the point of royalties and remuneration
gained by these means. The funniest of the more critical comments on
the way these men wrote of one another was a suggestion made in the
_Bystander_ that Shaw and Chesterton were really the same person:

   . . . Shaw, it is said, tired of socialism, weary of wearing
   Jaegers, and broken down by teetotalism and vegetarianism, sought,
   some years ago, an escape from them. His adoption, however, of these
   attitudes had a decided commercial value, which he did not think it
   advisable to prejudice by wholesale surrender. Therefore he, in order
   to taste the forbidden joys of individualistic philosophy, meat, food
   and strong drink, created "Chesterton." This mammoth myth, he
   decided, should enjoy all the forms of fame which Shaw had to deny
   himself. Outwardly, he should be Shaw's antithesis. He should be
   beardless, large in girth, smiling of countenance, and he should be
   licensed to sell paradoxes only in essay and novel form, all stage
   and platform rights being reserved by Shaw. To enable the imposition
   to be safely carried out, Shaw hit on the idea of residence close to
   the tunnel which connects Adelphi with the Strand. Emerging from his
   house plain, Jaeger-clad, bearded and saturnine Shaw, he entered the
   tunnel, in a cleft in which was a cellar. Here he donned the
   Chesterton properties, the immense padding of chest, and so on, the
   Chesterton sombrero hat and cloak and pince-nez, and there he left
   the Shaw beard and the Shaw clothes, the Shaw expression of
   countenance, and all the Shaw theories. He emerged into the Strand
   "G.K.C.," in whose identity he visited all the cafés, ate all the
   meats, rode in all the cabs, and smiled on all the sinners. The day's
   work done, the Chesterton manuscripts delivered, the proofs read, the
   bargains driven, the giant figure returned to the tunnel, and once
   again was back in Adelphi, the Shaw he was when he left it--back to
   the Jaegers, the beard, the Socialism, the statistics, and the
   sardonic letters to the _Times_.*

[* From _The Bystander_. 1 September, 1909.]

Bernard Shaw is a man of unusual generosity, but I think from his
letters he must also be quite a good man of business. G.K. was so
greatly the opposite that G.B.S. urged him again and again to do the
most ordinary things to protect the literary rights of himself and
others. Thus, in the only undated letter in the whole packet, he begs
Gilbert to back up the Authors' Society:

   MY DEAR G.K.C.,

   I am one of the unhappy slaves who, on the two big committees of
   your Trade Union (the Society of Authors) drudge at the heartbreaking
   work of defending our miserable profession against being devoured,
   body and soul, by the publishers--themselves a pitiful gang of
   literature-struck impostors who are crumpled up by the booksellers,
   who, though small folk, are at least in contact with reality in the
   shape of the book buyer. It is a ghastly and infuriating business,
   because the authors _will_ go to lunch with their publishers and sell
   them anything for £20 over the cigarettes, but it has to be done; and
   I, with half a dozen others, have to do it.

   Now I missed the last committee meeting (electioneering: I am here
   doing two colossal meetings of miners every night for Keir Hardie);
   but the harassed secretary writes that it was decided to take
   proceedings in the case of a book of yours which you (oh Esau, Esau!)
   sold to John--(John is a--well--no matter: when you take your turn on
   the committee you will find him out) and that though the German
   lawyer has had £7 and is going ahead (£7 worth of law in Germany
   takes you to the House of Lords) everything is hung up because you
   will not answer Thring's* letters. Thring, in desperation, appeals to
   me, concluding with characteristic simplicity that we must be friends
   because you have written a book about me. As the conclusion is
   accidentally and improbably true, I now urge you to give him whatever
   satisfaction he requires. I have no notion what it is, or what the
   case is about; but at least answer his letters, however infuriating
   they may be. Remember: you pay Thring only £500, for which you get
   integrity, incorruptibility, implacability, and a disposition greatly
   to find quarrel in a straw on your behalf (even with yourself) and
   don't complain if you don't get £20,000 worth of tact into the
   bargain. And your obligations to us wretched committee men are simply
   incalculable. We get nothing but abuse and denigration: authors weep
   with indignation when we put our foot on some blood-sucking,
   widow-cheating, orphan starving scoundrel and ruthlessly force him to
   keep to his mite of obligation under an agreement which would have
   revolted Shylock: unless the best men, the Good Professionals, help
   us, we are lost. We get nothing and spend our time like water for you.

[* Herbert Thring was the barrister employed by the Society of

   All we ask you to do is to answer Thring and let us get along with
   your work.

   Look here: will you write to Thring.

   _Please_ write to Thring.

   I say: have you written to Thring yet?


I doubt whether he had. Those chance sums he poured from time to time
into Frances' lap were usually not what they should have been, an
advance on a royalty. _Orthodoxy_ he sold outright for £100. No man
ever worked so hard to earn so little.

When later Gilbert employed Messrs. A. P. Watt as his literary agents
a letter to them (undated, of course, and written on the old
notepaper of his first Battersea flat) shows a mingling of gratitude
to his agents with entire absence of resentment towards his
publishers, which might be called essence of Chesterton:

   The prices you have got me for books, compared with what I used
   weakly to demand, seem to me to come out of fairyland. It seems to me
   that there is a genuine business problem which creates a permanent
   need for a literary agent. It consists in this--that our work, even
   when it has become entirely a duty and a worry, still remains in some
   vague way a pleasure. And how can we put a fair price on what is at
   once a worry and a pleasure? Suppose someone comes to me and says, "I
   offer you sixpence for your _History of the Gnostic Heresy_." Why,
   after all, should I charge more than sixpence for a work it was so
   exuberant to write? You, on the other hand, seeing it from the
   outside, would say that it was worth--so and so. And you would get it.

Shaw continued his attempts to stimulate the reluctant playwright.
Two years after drafting the scenario, he writes:

   10 Adelphi Terrace, W.C.
   5th April 1912.


   I have promised to drive somebody to Beaconsfield on Sunday
   morning; and I shall be in that district more or less for the rest of
   the day. If you are spending Easter at Overroads, and have no
   visitors who couldn't stand us, we should like to call on you at any
   time that would be convenient.

   The convenience of time depends on a design of my own which I wish
   to impart to you first. I want to read a play to Gilbert. It began by
   way of being a music-hall sketch; so it is not 3½ hours long as
   usual: I can get through it in an hour and a half. I want to insult
   and taunt and stimulate Gilbert with it. It is the sort of thing he
   could write and ought to write: a religious harlequinade.* In fact,
   he could do it better if a sufficient number of pins were stuck into
   him. My proposal is that I read the play to him on Sunday (or at the
   next convenient date), and that you fall into transports of
   admiration of it; declare that you can never love a man who cannot
   write things like that; and definitely announce that if Gilbert has
   not finished a worthy successor to it before the end of the third
   week next ensuing, you will go out like the lady in A Doll's House,
   and live your own life--whatever that dark threat may mean.

[* Androcles and The Lion evidently. G.B.S.]

   If you are at home, I count on your ready complicity; but the
   difficulty is that you may have visitors; and if they are pious
   Gilbert will be under a tacit obligation not to blaspheme, or let me
   blaspheme, whilst they are beneath his roof (my play is about
   Christian Martyrs, and perfectly awful in parts); and if they are
   journalists, it will be necessary to administer an oath of secrecy. I
   don't object to the oath; and nothing would please Gilbert more than
   to make them drink blood from a skull: the difficulty is, they
   wouldn't keep it. In short, they must be the right sort of people, of
   whom the more the merrier.

   Forgive this long rigmarole: it is only to put you in possession of
   what _may_ happen if you approve, and your invitations and domestic
   circumstances are propitious.

   Yours sincerely,

Chesterton at last did write _Magic_--but that belongs to another

Like the demand for a play, the theme of finance recurs with great
frequency in Shaw's letters, and after _Magic_ appeared he wrote to
Frances telling her that "in Sweden, where the marriage laws are
comparatively enlightened, I believe you could obtain a divorce on
the ground that your husband threw away an important part of the
provision for your old age for twenty pieces of silver. . . . In
future, the moment he has finished a play and the question of
disposing of it arises, lock him up and bring the agreement to me.
Explanations would be thrown away on him."


From Battersea to Beaconsfield

IN 1909, WITH _Orthodoxy_ well behind him, and _George Bernard Shaw_
just published, Gilbert and his wife left London for the small
country town that was to be their home for the rest of their lives.
It was an odd coincidence that they should leave Overstrand Mansions,
Battersea, and come to Overroads, Beaconsfield, for they did not name
their new home but found it ready christened.

It will be remembered that in one of the letters during the
engagement Gilbert had suggested a country home. The reason for the
choice of Beaconsfield he gives in the _Autobiography:_

   After we were married, my wife and I lived for about a year in
   Kensington, the place of my childhood; but I think we both knew that
   it was not to be the real place for our abode. I remember that we
   strolled out one day, for a sort of second honeymoon, and went upon a
   journey into the void, a voyage deliberately objectless. I saw a
   passing omnibus labelled "Hanwell" and, feeling this to be an
   appropriate omen,* we boarded it and left it somewhere at a stray
   station, which I entered and asked the man in the ticket-office where
   the next train went to. He uttered the pedantic reply, "Where do you
   want to go to?" And I uttered the profound and philosophical
   rejoinder, "Wherever the next train goes to." It seemed that it went
   to Slough; which may seem to be singular taste, even in a train.
   However, we went to Slough, and from there set out walking with even
   less notion of where we were going. And in that fashion we passed
   through the large and quiet cross-roads of a sort of village, and
   stayed at an inn called The White Hart. We asked the name of the
   place and were told that it was called Beaconsfield (I mean of course
   that it was called Beconsfield and not Beaconsfield), and we said to
   each other, "This is the sort of place where some day we will make
   our home."**

[* At Hanwell is London's most famous lunatic asylum.]

[** _Autobiography_, p. 219.]

They both wanted a home. They both deeply desired a family. The wish
is normal to both man and woman, normal in a happy marriage, and
theirs was unusually happy; it was almost abnormally keen in both
Frances and Gilbert. Few men have so greatly loved children. As a
schoolboy his letters are full of it--making friends with Scottish
children on the sands, with French children by the medium of
pictures. Later he was writing "In Defence of Baby Worship" and
welcoming with enthusiasm the arrival of his friends' children into
the world.

In the Notebook he had written:

   Sunlight in a child's hair.
   It is like the kiss of Christ upon all children.
   I blessed the child: and hoped the blessing would go with him
   And never leave him;
   And turn first into a toy, and then into a game
   And then into a friend,
   And as he grew up, into friends
   And then into a woman.


   Grass and children
   There seems no end to them.
   But if there were but one blade of grass
   Men would see that it is fairer than lilies,
   And if we saw the first child
   We should worship it as the God come on earth.


   I find that most round things are nice,
   Particularly Eternity and a baby.

Frances cared no less deeply both for Eternity and for babies and for
many years went on hoping for the family that would complete their
lives. At last it was decided to have an operation to enable her to
have children. Her doctor writes:

   I well remember an incident which occurred during her convalescence
   from that operation. I received a telephone call from the matron of
   the Nursing Home in which Mrs. Chesterton was staying, suggesting
   that I should come round and remonstrate with Mr. Chesterton. On my
   arrival I found him sitting on the stairs, where he had been for two
   hours, greatly incommoding passers up and down and deaf to all
   requests to move on. It appeared that he had written a sonnet to his
   wife on her recovery from the operation and was bringing it to give
   her. He was not however satisfied with the last line, but was
   determined to perfect it before entering her room to take tea with

By the time they left London she must, I think, have given up the
hope she had so long cherished. Still if there could not be children
there might be perhaps something of a home. In the conditions of
their life, there was danger that any house of bricks and mortar
should be rather a headquarters than a home, and it was lucky that he
was able to feel she took home with her wherever they went--

   Your face that is a wandering home
   A flying home for me.

The years before them were to be filled with the vast activities that
not only took Gilbert to London and all over England incessantly, but
were to take him increasingly over Europe and America. Beaconsfield
gave a degree of quiet that made it possible, when they were able to
be at home, not to be swamped by engagements and to lead a life of
their own. Gilbert could go to London when he liked, but he need not
always be on tap, so to say, for all the world. Frances could have a
garden and indulge her hungry appetite for all that was fruitful.
G.K., later, under the title "The Homelessness of Jones"* showed his
love for a house rather than a flat, and they gave even to their
first little house "Overroads" the stamp of a real home.

[* A chapter in _What's Wrong with the World_.]

For a man and his wife to leave London for the country might seem to
be their own affair. Not so, however, with the Chestertons. After a
lapse of over thirty years I find the matter still a subject of
furious controversy and indeed passion. Frances, says one school of
opinion, committed a crime against the public good by removing
Gilbert from Fleet Street. No, says the other school, she had to move
him or he would have died of working too hard and drinking too much.
The suggestion, which I believe to be a fact, that Gilbert himself
wanted to move, is seldom entertained.

There is in all this the legitimate feeling of distress among any
group at losing its chief figure, its pride and joy. "I lost
Gilbert," Lucian Oldershaw once said, "first when I introduced him to
Belloc, next when he married Frances, and finally when he joined the
Catholic Church. . . . I rejoiced, though perhaps with a maternal
sadness, at all these fulfillments."

Cecil wanted his brother always on hand. Belloc was already in the
country--a far more remote country--but even he, coming up to London,
mourned to my mother, "she has taken my Chesterton from me." Talking
it over however after the lapse of years, he agreed that in all
probability the move was a wise one. What may be called the smaller
fry of Fleet Street are less reasonable. One cannot avoid the feeling
that in all this masculine life so sure of its manhood, there
lingered something of the "schwärmerei" of the Junior Debating Club
furiously desiring each to be first with Gilbert. And in his love of
Fleet Street he so identified himself with them all that they felt he
was one of them and did not recognise the horizons wider than theirs
that were opening before him.

My husband and I are experts in changing residences and we listened
with the amusement of experts to the talk of theorists. For it was so
constantly assumed that on one side of a choice is disaster, on the
other perfection. Actually perfection does not belong to this earthly
state: if you go to Rome, as Gilbert himself once said, you sacrifice
a rich suggestive life at Wimbledon. Newman writing of a far greater
and more irrevocable choice called his story _Loss and Gain_--but he
had no doubt that the gain outweighed the loss. There were in
Gilbert's adult life three other big decisions--decisions of the
scale that altered its course. The first was his marriage. The second
was his reception into the Church. The third was his continued
dedication to the paper that his brother and Belloc had founded. In
deciding to marry Frances he was acting against his mother's wishes,
to which he was extremely sensitive. His decision to become a
Catholic had to be made alone: he had the sympathy of his wife but
not her companionship. In the decision to edit the paper he had not
even fully her sympathy: she always felt his creative work to be so
much more important and to be imperilled by the overwork the paper
brought. Gilbert was a man slow in action but it would be exceedingly
difficult to find instances of his doing anything that he did not
want to do. The theorists about marriage are like the theorists about
moving house, if they do not know that decisions made by one party
alone are rare indeed and stick out like spikes in the life of a
normal and happy couple. Of the vast majority of decisions it is hard
to say who makes them. They make themselves: after endless talk: on
the tops of omnibuses going to Hanwell or elsewhere: out walking:
breakfasting--especially breakfasting in bed. They make
themselves--above all in the matter of a move--in fine weather:
during a holiday: on a hot London Sunday: when a flat is stuffy: when
the telephone rings all day: when a book is on the stocks.

Other writers have left London that they might create at leisure and
choose their own times for social intercourse. Why does no one say
their wives dragged them away? Simply, I think, that being less kind
and considerate than Gilbert, they do not mind telling their friends
that they are not always wanted. This Gilbert could not do. If people
said how they would miss him, how they hated his going, he would
murmur vague and friendly sounds, from which they deduced all they
wanted to deduce. Was it more weakness or strength, that tenderness
of heart that could never faintly suggest to his friends that they
would miss him more than he would miss them? "I never wanted but one
thing in my life," he had written to Annie Firmin. And that "one
thing" he was taking with him.

Anyhow, the move accomplished, he enjoyed defending it in every
detail, and did so especially in his _Daily News_ articles. The rush
to the country was not uncommon in the literary world of the moment,
and his journalist friends had urged the point that Beaconsfield was
not true country, was suburban, was being built over. His friends,
G.K. replied, were suffering from a weak-minded swing from one
extreme to the other. Men who had praised London as the only place to
live in were now vying with one another to live furthest from a
station, to have no chimneys visible on the most distant horizon, to
depend on tradesmen who only called once a week from cities so
distant that fresh-baked loaves grew stale before delivery. "Rival
ruralists would quarrel about which had the most completely
inconvenient postal service; and there were many jealous
heartburnings if one friend found out any uncomfortable situation
which the other friend had thoughtlessly overlooked."

Gilbert, on the contrary, noted soon after his arrival that
Beaconsfield was beginning to be built over and he noted it with
satisfaction. "Within a stone's throw of my house they are building
another house. I am glad they are building it and I am glad it is
within a stone's throw." He did not want a desert, he did not want a
large landed estate, he wanted what he had got--a house and a garden.
He adventurously explored that garden, finding a kitchen-garden that
had "somehow got attached" to the premises, and wondering why he
liked it; speaking to the gardener, "an enterprise of no little
valour," and asking him the name "of a strange dark red rose, at once
theatrical and sulky," which turned out to be called Victor Hugo;
"watching (with regret) a lot of little black pigs being turned out
of my garden."

Watching the neighbouring house grow up from its foundation he noted
in an article called, "The Wings of Stone," what was the reality of a
staircase. We pad them with carpets and rail them with banisters, yet
every "staircase is truly only an awful and naked ladder running up
into the infinite to a deadly height." (A correspondent pointed out
in a letter to the _Daily News_ that here he had touched a reality
keenly felt by primitive peoples. When Cetewayo, King of Zululand,
visited London, he would go upstairs only on hands and knees and that
with manifest terror.) The paddings of civilisation may be useful,
yet Gilbert held more valuable a realisation of the realities of
things. Vision is not fancy, but the sight of truth.

In the Notebook he had written

   There are three things that make me think;
   things beyond all poetry:
   A yellow space or rift in evening sky:
   A chimney or pinnacle high in the air;
   And a path over a hill.

Chesterton had always the power of conveying in words a painter's
vision of some unforgettable scene with the poet's words for what the
artist not only sees but imagines. Such flashes became more frequent
as he looked through the doorway of his little house. Go through _The
Ball and the Cross_ with this in mind and you will see what I mean.
"The crimson seas of the sunset seemed to him like a bursting out of
some sacred blood, as if the heart of the world had broken." "There
is nothing more beautiful than thus to look as it were through the
archway of a house; as if the open sky were an interior chamber, and
the sun a secret lamp of the place." Best of all to illustrate this
special quality is a longer passage from the _Poet and the Lunatics_.

   For the most part he was contented to see the green semicircles of
   lawn repeat themselves like a pattern of green moons; for he was not
   one to whom repetition was merely monotony. Only in looking over a
   particular gate at a particular lawn, he became pleasantly conscious,
   or half conscious, of a new note of colour in the greenness; a much
   bluer green, which seemed to change to vivid blue, as the object at
   which he was gazing moved sharply, turning a small head on a long
   neck. It was a peacock. But he had thought of a thousand things
   before he thought of the obvious thing. The burning blue of the
   plumage on the neck had reminded him of blue fire, and blue fire had
   reminded him of some dark fantasy about blue devils, before he had
   fully realised even that it was a peacock he was staring at. And the
   tail, that trailing tapestry of eyes, had led his wandering wits away
   to those dark but divine monsters of the Apocalypse whose eyes were
   multiplied like their wings, before he had remembered that a peacock,
   even in a more practical sense, was an odd thing to see in so
   ordinary a setting.

Yet always to Chesterton the beauty of nature was enhanced by the
work of men, and if in London men had swarmed too closely, it was not
to get away from them but to appreciate them more individually that
he chose the country. Yes, his literary friends would say: in the
real country that is true; the farmer, the labourer, even the village
barber and the village tradesmen are worth knowing, but not suburban
neighbours. Against such discrimination the whole democracy of
Chesterton stood in revolt. All men were valuable, all men were
interesting, the doctor as much as the barber, the clergyman as much
as the farmer. All men were children of God and citizens of the
world. If he had a choice in the matter it was discrimination against
the literary world itself with all the fads that tended to smother
its essential humanity. Nothing would have induced him to
discriminate against the suburban. In the last year of his life he
wrote in the _Autobiography:_ "I have lived in Beaconsfield from the
time when it was almost a village, to the time when, as the enemy
profanely says, it is a suburb."

For the author of _The Napoleon of Notting Hill_ this would hardly be
a conclusive argument against any place. We should, he once said,
"regard the important suburbs as ancient cities embedded in a sort of
boiling lava spouted up by that volcano, the speculative builder."
That "lava" itself he found interesting, but beneath or beside it a
little town like Beaconsfield had its share in the great sweep of
English history. Something of the "seven sunken Englands" could be
found in the Old Town which custom marked off pretty sharply from the
"New Town." Burke had lived in Beaconsfield and was buried there; and
Gilbert once suggested to Mr. Garvin that they should appear at a
local festival, respectively as Fox ("a part for which I have no
claim except in circumference") and Burke ("I admire Burke in many
things while disagreeing with him in nearly everything. But Mr.
Garvin strikes me as being rather like Burke").

At the barber's he was often seen sitting at the end of a line
patiently awaiting his turn, for he could never shave himself and it
was only years later that Dorothy Collins conceived and put into
execution the bold project of bringing the barber to the house.
Probably an article would be shaping while he waited and the barber's
conversation might put the finishing touches to it. There were in
fact two barbers, one of the old town, one of the new. "I once
planned," he says, "a massive and exhaustive sociological work, in
several volumes, which was to be called 'The Two Barbers of
Beaconsfield' and based entirely upon the talk of the two excellent
citizens to whom I went to get shaved. For those two shops do indeed
belong to two different civilisations."

Despite his love for London, Gilbert had always felt that life in a
country town held one point of special superiority--in it you
discovered the Community. In London you chose your friends--which
meant that you narrowed your life to people of one kind. He had noted
in the family itself a valuable widening:

   The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into
   a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we
   have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us
   and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a
   surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt
   from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being
   born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world
   which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without
   us, into a world that we have not made.*

[* _Heretics_, pp. 191-2.]

Here in Beaconsfield the Chestertons grew into the community: the
clergyman, the doctor, the inn-keeper, the barber, the gardener. And
like the relatives who spring upon you at birth these worthy citizens
seemed to Gilbert potentials of vast excitement and varied interest.
Discussing an event of much later date--a meeting to decide whether a
crucifix might be erected as a local war memorial--he thus describes
the immense forces he found in that small place:

   Those who debated the matter were a little group of the inhabitants
   of a little country town; the rector and the doctor and the bank
   manager and the respectable tradesmen of the place, with a few
   hangers-on like myself, of the more disreputable professions of
   journalism or the arts. But the powers that were present there in the
   spirit came out of all the ages and all the battlefields of history;
   Mahomet was there and the Iconoclasts, who came riding out of the
   East to ruin the statues of Italy, and Calvin and Rousseau and the
   Russian anarchs and all the older England that is buried under
   Puritanism; and Henry the Third ordering the little images for
   Westminster and Henry the Fifth, after Agincourt, on his knees before
   the shrines of Paris. If one could really write that little story of
   that little place, it would be the greatest of historical monographs.*

[* _Autobiography_, p. 244.]

A keen observer often added to the Beaconsfield community in those
days was Father (now Monsignor) John O'Connor, close friend of both
Gilbert and Frances and inspirer of "Father Brown" of detective fame.
They had first become friends in 1904 when they met at the house of a
friend in Keighley, Yorkshire, and walked back over the moors
together to visit Francis Steinthal at Ilkley. This Jew, of Frankfort
descent, was a great friend of the Chestertons and on their many
visits to him the friendship with Father O'Connor ripened. With both
Frances and Gilbert it was among the closest of their lives. Their
letters to him show it: the long talks, and companionable walks over
the moors, have an atmosphere of intimacy that is all the more
convincing because so little stressed in his book. Father O'Connor
has a pardonable pride in the idea that their talks suggested ideas
to Gilbert, he takes pleasure in his character of "Father Brown," but
he reveals the atmosphere of unique confidence and intimacy by the
very absence of all parade of it.

Both he and Gilbert have told the story of how the idea of the
detective priest first dawned. On their second meeting Father
O'Connor had startled, indeed almost shattered Gilbert, with certain
rather lurid knowledge of human depravity which he had acquired in
the course of his priestly experience. At the house to which they
were going, two Cambridge undergraduates spoke disparagingly of the
"cloistered" habits of the Catholic clergy, saying that to them it
seemed that to know and meet evil was a far better thing than the
innocence of such ignorance. To Gilbert, still under the shock of a
knowledge compared with which "these two Cambridge gentlemen knew
about as much of real evil as two babies in the same perambulator,"
the exquisite irony of this remark suggested a thought. Why not a
whole comedy of cross purposes based on the notion of a priest with a
knowledge of evil deeper than that of the criminal he is converting?
He carried out this idea in the story of "The Blue Cross," the first
Father Brown detective story. Father O'Connor's account adds the
details that he had himself once boasted of buying five sapphires for
five shillings, and that he always carried a large umbrella and many
brown paper parcels. At the Steinthal dining table, an artist friend
of the family made a sketch of Father O'Connor which later appeared
on the wrapper of _The Innocence of Father Brown_.

Beyond one or two touches of this sort the idea had been a suggestion
for a character, not a portrait, and in the _Autobiography_ and in
the _Dickens_ Gilbert has a good deal to say of interest to the
novelist about how such suggestions come and are used. He never
believed that Dickens drew a portrait, as it were, in the round.
Nature just gives hints to the creative artist. And it used to amuse
"Father Brown" to find that such touches of observation as noting
where an ash-tray had got hidden behind a book seemed to Gilbert
quasi miraculous. Left to himself he merely dropped ashes on the
floor from his cigar. "He did not smoke a pipe and cigarettes were
prone to set him on fire in one place or another."

A frequent visitor, Father O'Connor noted his fashion of work and
reading, and the abstracted way he often moved and spoke. "Call it
mooning, but he never mooned. He was always working out something in
his mind, and when he drifted from his study to the garden and was
seen making deadly passes with his sword-stick at the dahlias, we
knew that he had got to a dead end in his composition and was getting
his thoughts into order."

He played often, too, with a huge knife which he had for twenty-four
years. He took it abroad with him, took it to bed: Frances had to
retrieve it often from under his pillow in some hotel. Once at a
lecture in Dublin he drew it absent-mindedly to sharpen a pencil: as
it was seven and a half inches long shut, and fourteen open, the
amusement of the audience may be imagined. In origin it was, Father
O'Connor relates, a Texan or Mexican general utility implement. It
was with this knife that he won my daughter's heart many years later
when she, aged three, had not seen him for some time and had grown
shy of him. A little scared of his enormousness she stood far off. He
did not look in her direction but began to open and shut the vast
blade. Next she was on his knee. A little later we heard her remark,
"Uncle Gilbert, you make jokes just like my Daddy." And from him
came, "I do my best."

The prototype of Father Brown tells of the easy job in detection when
Gilbert had been reading a book:

   He had just been reading a shilling pamphlet by Dr. Horton on the
   Roman Menace or some such fearful wild fowl. I knew he had read it,
   because no one else could when he had done. Most of his books, as and
   when read, had gone through every indignity a book may suffer and
   live. He turned it inside out, dog-eared it, pencilled it, sat on it,
   took it to bed and rolled on it, and got up again and spilled tea on
   it--if he were sufficiently interested. So Dr. Horton's pamphlet had
   a refuted look when I saw it.

Father O'Connor was not the only friend who was added to the
Beaconsfield group with some frequency. It was easy enough to run
down from London or over from Welwyn (home of G.B.S.) or from Oxford
or Cambridge. It was most conveniently central. Gilbert's brethren of
the pen were especially apt to appear at all seasons and always found
friendly welcome. For he continued to call himself neither poet nor
philosopher but journalist. Father O'Connor had tried to persuade
him, as he neatly puts it, to "begin to print on handmade paper with
gilt edges." But Frances begged him to drop the idea: "You will not
change Gilbert, you will only fidget him. He is bent on being a jolly
journalist, to paint the town red, and he does not need style to do
that. All he wants is buckets and buckets of red paint."

Journalists coming down from London describe the "jolly" welcome,
beer poured, the sword-stick flourished, conversation flowing as
freely as the beer. It meant a pleasant afternoon and it meant good
copy. They visited him in the country, they observed him in town. One
interviewer returned with a photo which showed Chesterton "in a
somewhat négligé condition," the result as he admitted of reading W.
W. Jacobs "rolling about on the floor waving his legs in the air."

He was seen working a swan boat at the White City: "he collapsed it
and the placid lake became a raging sea." He was seen thinking and
even reading under the strangest weather conditions: one man saw him
under a gas lamp in the street in pouring rain with an open book in
his hand. Reading in Fleet Street one day Gilbert discovered suddenly
that the Lord Mayor's Show was passing. He began to reflect on the
Show so deeply that he forgot to look at it.

Overroads I remember as a little triangular house, much too small for
the sort of fun the Chestertons enjoyed. Frances bought a field
opposite to it and there built a studio. The night the studio was
opened Father O'Connor remembers a large party at which charades were
acted. He himself as Canon Cross-Keys gave away the word so that
"Belfry" was loudly shouted by the opposition group. The rival
company acting Torture got away with it successfully, especially,
complains our Yorkshire priest "as 'ure' was pronounced 'yaw' in the
best southern manner."

On that night, returning to the house, Father O'Connor offered his
arm to Gilbert who "refused it with a finality foreign to our
friendship." Father O'Connor went on ahead and Gilbert following in
the dark stumbled over a flowerpot and broke his arm. Perhaps because
his size made him self-consciously aware of awkwardness Gilbert hated
being helped. Father Ignatius Rice, another close friend, says the
only time he ever saw Gilbert annoyed was when he offered him an arm
going upstairs.

Gilbert and Frances would both visit Father O'Connor in his Yorkshire
Parish of Heckmondwike. One year they took rooms at Ilkley and he
remembers Gilbert adorning with huge frescoes the walls of the attic
and Frances sitting in the window singing, "O swallow, swallow flying
south" while Gilbert "did a blazon of some fantastic coat of arms."

The closeness of the intimacy is seen in a letter quoted by Father
O'Connor* in which Gilbert explained why Frances and he were unable
to come to Heckmondwike for a promised visit.

[* _Father Brown on Chesterton_, p. 123.]

   (July 3rd, 1909)

   I would not write this to anyone else, but you combine so unusually
   in your own single personality the characters of (1) priest, (2)
   human being, (3) man of the world, (4) man of the other world, (5)
   man of science, (6) old friend, (7) new friend, not to mention
   Irishman and picture dealer, that I don't mind suggesting the truth
   to you. Frances has just come out of what looked bad enough to be an
   illness, and is just going to plunge into one of her recurrent
   problems of pain and depression. The two may be just a bit too much
   for her and I want to be with her every night for a few days--there's
   an Irish Bull for you!

   One of the mysteries of Marriage (which must be a Sacrament and an
   extraordinary one too) is that a man evidently useless like me can
   yet become at certain instants indispensable. And the further oddity
   (which I invite you to explain on mystical grounds) is that he never
   feels so small as when he knows that he is necessary.

But sometimes she would send him off whether she was well or ill, and
on Father O'Connor would rest the heavy responsibility of getting him
on to his next destination or safe back home. He tells of one such

   He was most dutiful and obedient to orders, but they had to be
   written ones and backed by the spoken word. He brought his
   dress-suit, oh! with what loving care, to Bradford on Sunday for
   Sheffield for Monday, but a careful host found it under the bed in
   Bradford just as his train left for Sheffield. Sent at once it was to
   Beaconsfield, where it landed at 5 P.M. on Thursday, just allowing
   him ten minutes to change and entrain for London.

   Scene at Beaconsfield:

   "What on earth have you done with your dress-suit, Gilbert?"

   "I must have left it behind, darling, but I brought back the ties,
   didn't I?"*

[* Ibid., p. 43.]

Another time he came back without his pyjamas. They had been lost
early in the journey. "Why didn't you buy some more?" his wife asked.
"I didn't know pyjamas were things you could buy," he said,
surprised. Probably if one were Gilbert one couldn't! Father O'Connor
arriving at Overroads without baggage found that Gilbert's pyjamas
went around him exactly twice.

Lecturing engagements had of course not come to an end with the move
although they had (mercifully) somewhat lessened. What increased with
the distance from London was the problem--never fully solved--of
getting Gilbert to the right place at the right time and in clothes
not too wildly wrong. When he lectured in Lancashire they stayed at
Crosby with Francis Blundell (my brother-in-law), and my sister
remembers Frances as incessantly looking through her bag for letters
and sending telegrams to confirm engagements that had come unstuck or
to refuse others that were in debate. The celebrated and now almost
legendary telegram from Gilbert to Frances told as from a hundred
different cities was really sent: "Am in Market Harborough. Where
ought I to be?"

Desperate, she wired, "Home," because, as she told me later, it was
easier to get him home and start him off again. That day's engagement
was lost past recall.

Charles Rowley of the Ancoats Brotherhood received a wire, reply
paid, from Snow Hill Station, Birmingham: "Am I coming to you tonight
or what?" Reply: "Not this Tuesday but next Wednesday."

So home he came again to Overroads.

The Chestertons made a host of friends in Beaconsfield but the
children always held pride of place. The doctor's little boy, running
along the top of the wall, looked down at Gilbert and remarked to his
delight, "I think you're an ogre." But when the nurse was heard
threatening punishment if he did not get down "that minute," the
child was told by the ogre, "This wall is meant for little boys to
run along." One child, asked after a party if Mr. Chesterton had been
very clever, said, "You should see him catch buns in his mouf."

What was unusual both with Gilbert and Frances was the fact that they
never allowed their disappointment in the matter of children to make
them sour or jealous of others who had the joy that they had not. All
through their lives they played with other people's children: they
chose on a train a compartment full of children: they planned
amusements, they gave presents to the children of their friends. Over
my son's bed hangs a silver crucifix chosen with loving care by
Frances after Gilbert had stood godfather to him. And he was one of
very many.

Gilbert was however a complete realist as to the ways and manners of
the species he so loved.

   Playing with children [he wrote at this time] is a glorious thing:
   but the journalist in question has never understood why it was
   considered a soothing or idyllic one. It reminds him, not of watering
   little budding flowers, but of wrestling for hours with gigantic
   angels and devils. Moral problems of the most monstrous complexity
   besiege him incessantly. He has to decide before the awful eyes of
   innocence, whether, when a sister has knocked down a brother's
   bricks, in revenge for the brother having taken two sweets out of his
   turn, it is endurable that the brother should retaliate by scribbling
   on the sister's picture-book, and whether such conduct does not
   justify the sister in blowing out the brother's unlawfully lit match.

   Just as he is solving this problem upon principles of the highest
   morality, it occurs to him suddenly that he has not written his
   Saturday article; and that there is only about an hour to do it in.
   He wildly calls to somebody (probably the gardener) to telephone to
   somewhere for a messenger; he barricades himself in another room and
   tears his hair, wondering what on earth he shall write about. A
   drumming of fists on the door outside and a cheerful bellowing
   encourage and clarify his thoughts. . . . He sits down desperately;
   the messenger rings at the bell; the children drum on the door; the
   servants run up from time to time to say the messenger is getting
   bored; and the pencil staggers along, making the world a present of
   fifteen hundred unimportant words, and making Shakespeare a present
   of a portion of Gray's _Elegy_; putting "fantastic roots wreathed
   high" instead of "antique roots peep out."* Then the journalist sends
   off his copy and turns his attention to the enigma of whether a
   brother should commandeer a sister's necklace because the sister
   pinched him at Littlehampton.

[* Chesterton had actually made this slip, and the present quotation
is from the article he wrote in apology.]

In the Notebook he had written:


   On the sands I romped with children
   Do you blame me that I did not improve myself
   By bottling anemones?
   But I say that these children will be men and women
   And I say that the anemones will not be men and women
   (Not just yet, at least, let us say).
   And I say that the greatest men of the world might romp with
   And that I should like to see Shakespeare romping with children
   And Browning and Darwin romping with children
   And Mr. Gladstone romping with children
   And Professor Huxley romping with children
   And all the Bishops romping with children;
   And I say that if a man had climbed to the stars
   And found the secrets of the angels,
   The best thing and the most useful thing he could do
   Would be to come back and romp with children.

   M. V.

   An almost elvish little girl with loose brown hair, doing
   needlework. I have spoken to her once or twice.
   I think I must get another book of the same size as this
   to make notes about her.

From the Christmas party at Overroads all adults were excluded--no
nurses, no parents. The children would hang on Gilbert's neck in an
ecstasy of affection and he and Frances schemed out endless games for
them. Gilbert had started a toy theatre before he left London,
cutting out and painting figures and scenery, and devising plots for
plays. Two of the favourites were "St. George and the Dragon" and
"The Seven Champions of Christendom."

The atmosphere of Overroads is perhaps best conveyed through
Gilbert's theories concerning his toy theatre and the other
theatricals such as Charades sometimes played there. When it came to
the toy theatre set up to amuse the children, he frankly felt that he
was himself child No. 1 and got the most amusement out of it. He felt
too that the whole thing was good enough to be worth analysing in its
rules and its effects. And so he drew up a paper of rules and
suggestions for its use.

   I will not say positively that a toy-theatre is the best of
   theatres; though I have had more fun out of it than out of any other.
   But I will say positively that the toy-theatre is the best of all
   toys. It sometimes fails; but generally because people are mistaken
   in the matter of what it is meant to do, and what it can or cannot be
   expected to do; as if people should use a toy balloon as a football
   or a skipping rope as a hammock. . . .

   Now the first rule may seem rather contradictory; but it is quite
   true and really quite simple. In a small theatre, because it is a
   small theatre, you cannot deal with small things. Because it is a
   small theatre it must only deal with large things. You can introduce
   a dragon; but you cannot really introduce an earwig; it is too small
   for a small theatre. And this is true not only of small creatures,
   but of small actions, small gestures and small details of any
   kind. . . . All your effects must be made to depend on things like
   scenery and background. The sky and the clouds and the castles and
   the mountains and so on must be the exciting things; along with other
   things that move all of a piece, such as regiments and processions;
   great and glorious things can be done with processions. . . . In a
   real comedy the whole excitement may consist in the nervous curate
   dropping his tea-cup; though I do not recommend this incident for the
   drama of the drawing-room. But if he were nervous, let us say, about
   a thunderstorm, the toy-theatre could hardly represent the
   nervousness but it might manage the thunder-storm. It might be quite
   sensational and yet entirely simple; for it would largely consist of
   darkening the stage and making horrible noises behind the
   scenes. . . .

   The second and smaller rule, that really follows from this, is that
   everything dramatic should depend not on a character's action, but
   simply on his appearance. Shakespeare said of actors that they have
   their exits and their entrances; but these actors ought really to
   have nothing else except exits and entrances. The trick is to so
   arrange the tale that the mere appearance of a person tells the
   important truth about him. Thus, supposing the drama to be about St.
   George let us say, the mere abrupt appearance of the dragon's head
   (if of a proper ferocity) will be enough to explain that he intends
   to eat people; and it will not be necessary for the dragon to explain
   at length, with animated gestures and playful conversation, that his
   nature is carnivorous and that he has not merely dropped in to tea.

There is some further discussion on colour effects ("I like very gay
and glaring colours, and I like to give them a good chance to
glare"). The paper concludes on a more serious note:

   It is an old story, and for some a sad one, that in a sense these
   childish toys are more to us than they can ever be to children. We
   never know how much of our after imaginations began with such a
   peep-show into paradise. I sometimes think that houses are
   interesting because they are so like doll houses and I am sure the
   best thing that can be said for many large theatres is that they may
   remind us of little theatres. . . .

   I do not look back, I look forward to this kind of puppet play; I
   look forward to the day when I shall have time to play with it. Some
   day when I am too lazy to write anything, or even to read anything, I
   shall retire into this box of marvels; and I shall be found still
   striving hopefully to get inside a toy-theatre.

Adults as well as children enjoyed this toy and it was often
described by interviewers. Like the sword-stick, the great cloak and
flapping hat, it was felt by some to be Gilbert's way of attracting
attention. But it was just one of Gilbert's ways of amusing himself.
A small nephew of Frances was living with them at the time and it was
funny to watch him fencing with his huge uncle who was obviously
enjoying himself rather the more of the two. On my first visit to
Overroads, I noticed how as we talked my host's pencil never ceased.
One evening I collected and kept an imposing red Indian and a
caricature of Chesterton himself in a wheelbarrow being carried off
to the bonfire. I came in too for one of the grown-up parties in
which guessing games were a feature. Lines from the poets were
illustrated and we had to guess them. At another party, Dr. Pocock
told me, G.K. did the Inns of Beaconsfield, of which the most
successful drawing was that of a sadly dilapidated dragon being
turned away from the inn door: "Dragon discovers with disgust that he
cannot put up at the George."

Sometimes these drawings were the prize of whoever guessed the line
of verse they illustrated, sometimes they were sold for a local
charity. The Babies' Convalescent Home was a favourite object and one
admirable picture (reproduced in _The Coloured Lands_) shows the
"Despair of King Herod at discovering children convalescing from the
Massacre." The two closest friendships of early Beaconsfield life
were with the rector, Mr. Comerline and his wife, who are now dead,
and Dr. and Mrs. Pocock. Dr. Pocock was the Chestertons' doctor as
well as their friend, and he tells me that his great difficulty in
treating Gilbert lay in his detachment from his own physical
circumstances. If there was anything wrong with him he usually didn't
notice it. "He was the most uncomplaining person. You had to hunt him
all over" to find out if anything was wrong.

This detachment from circumstances still extended to his appearance
and Frances one day begged Dr. Pocock to take him to a good tailor.
It was a huge success: he had never looked so well as he did now--for
a few weeks. And then the tailor said to Dr. Pocock, "Mr. Chesterton
has broken my heart. It took twice the material and twice the time to
make for him, but I _was_ proud of it." His tailor like his doctor
was apt to become a friend. Mrs. Pocock recalls how he would go to a
dinner of the tradesmen of Beaconsfield and come back intensely
interested and wanting to tell her all about it.

"You always went away," Dr. Pocock said, "chuckling over something,"
and he summed up the years of their friendship, saying, "You never
saw him without getting delight from his presence."

Sometimes he would grow abstracted in the train of his own thought,
and Father Ignatius Rice remembers an occasion when he was one of a
group discussing really bad lines of poetry. Gilbert broke into
something Frances was saying with the words, "That irritating person
Milton"--then, realising he had interrupted her, he broke off and
apologised profusely. When she had finished he went on "That
irritating person Milton--I can't find a single bad line in him."

Frances one day came in rather suddenly when Dr. Pocock was there,
and Gilbert exclaimed, "Oh you've broken it." She looked round
thinking she must have knocked something over. "No," he said, "it was
an idea." "It will come back," said Frances. "No," he said, "it got
broken." More usually he was indifferent to interruptions: sometimes
he welcomed them as grist for his mind's mill. Daily life went on
around him and often in his articles one can find traces of Frances's
daily activities as well as his own.

Attending him for his broken arm, Dr. Pocock told him at a certain
stage to write something--anything--to see if he could use a pen
again. After an instant's thought, Gilbert headed his paper with the
name of a prominent Jew and wrote:

   I am fond of Jews
   Jews are fond of money
   Never mind of whose
   I am fond of Jews
   Oh, but when they lose
   Damn it all, it's funny.

The name at the head (which wild horses would not drag from me) is
the key to this impromptu. It was really true that Gilbert was fond
of very many Jews. In his original group of J.D.C. friends, four Jews
had been included and with three of these his friendship continued
through life. Lawrence Solomon and his wife were among the
Beaconsfield neighbours and he saw them often. There was another kind
of Jew he very heartily disliked but he was at great pains to draw
this distinction himself.

Speaking at the Jewish West End Literary Society in 1911 he put the
question of what the real Jewish problem was. The Jews, he said, were
a race, born civilised. You never met a Jewish clod or yokel. They
represented one of the highest of civilised types. But while all
other races had local attachments, the Jews were universal and
scattered. They could not be expected to have patriotism for the
countries in which they made their homes: their patriotism could be
only for their race. In principle, he believed in the solution of
Zionism. And then the reporter in large letters made a headline: "Mr.
Chesterton said that speaking generally, as with most other

Many years later in Palestine he was to be driven around the country,
as he has described in _The New Jerusalem_, by one of these less
wealthy Jews who had sacrificed his career in England to his national
idealism. And later yet, after G.K.'s death, Rabbi Wise, a leader of
American Jewry, paid him tribute (in a letter to Cyril Clements dated
September 8, 1937):

   Indeed I was a warm admirer of Gilbert Chesterton. Apart from his
   delightful art and his genius in many directions, he was, as you
   know, a great religionist. He as Catholic, I as Jew, could not have
   seen eye to eye with each other, and he might have added
   "particularly seeing that you are cross-eyed"; but I deeply respected
   him. When Hitlerism came, he was one of the first to speak out with
   all the directness and frankness of a great and unabashed spirit.
   Blessing to his memory!


A Circle of Friends

IN THE LAST chapter, this chapter and to a considerable extent those
that follow, down to the break made by Gilbert's illness and the war
of 1914, it is unavoidable that the same years should be retraced to
cover a variety of aspects. For their home was for both Gilbert and
Frances the centre of a widening circle. Although I visited
Overroads, it seems to me, looking back, I saw them just then much
more frequently in London and elsewhere. Several times they stayed at
Lotus, our Surrey home. The first time it was a weekend of blazing
summer weather. Lady Blennerhassett was there--formerly Countess
Leyden and a favourite disciple of Döllinger. I remember she
delighted Gilbert by her comment on Modernism. "I must," she said,
"have the same religion as my washerwoman, and Father Tyrrell's is
not the religion for my washerwoman." We sat on the terrace in the
sunshine and Lady Blennerhassett asked suddenly whether the soles of
our boots were, like hers, without hole or blemish. We all looked
very odd as we stuck our feet out and tried to see the soles.
Gilbert, offered a wicker chair, preferred the grass because, he
said, there was grave danger he might unduly "modify" the chair.

After a meeting of the Westminster Dining Society (the predecessor of
the Wiseman), he wrote my mother an unnecessary apology:


   I have wanted for some days past to write to you, but could not
   make up my mind whether I was making my position worse or better. But
   I do want to apologise to you for the way in which I threw out your
   delightful Catholic Dining Society affair the other day. I behaved
   badly, dined badly, debated badly and left badly; yet the explanation
   is really simple. I was horribly worried, and I do not worry well;
   when I am worried I am like a baby. My wife was that night just ill
   enough to make a man nervous, a stupid man, and I had sworn to her
   that I would fulfill some affairs that night on which she was keen.
   As she is better now and only wants rest, I feel normal and realise
   what a rotter I must have looked that night. As Belloc wrote in a
   beautiful epitaph--

   "He frequently would flush with fear when other people paled,
   He Tried to Do his Duty . . . but how damnably he failed."

   This is the epitaph of yours sincerely,


My father and mother were hardly less excited than I at the discovery
of the greatest man of the age, for so we all felt him to be. Gilbert
later described my father as "strongly co-operative" with another's
mind, and this was perhaps his own chief characteristic in
conversation. The two men did not agree on politics, but on religion
their agreement was deep and constantly grew deeper as they
co-operated in exploring it. Our headquarters were in Surrey but when
we came up to London every spring my parents wanted to bring the
Chestertons into touch with all their friends. They tended to think
of their luncheon table as Chesterton "supported" by those most
worthy of the honour. One of the first was of course George Wyndham,
already a friend and admirer of Gilbert's. At this luncheon they
discussed the modern press, 18th Century lampoons, the ingredients of
a good English style, the lawfulness of Revolution, the causes of
Napoleon, Scripture criticism, Joan of Arc, public executions, how to
bring about reforms. It was absurd, G.K. said, to think that gaining
half a reform led to the other half. Supposing it was agreed that
every man ought to have a cow, but you say, "We can't manage that
just yet: give him half a cow." He doesn't care for it and he leaves
it about, and he never asks for the other half.

Talking of the Eastern and Western races Gilbert said it was curious
that while the Easterns were so logical and clear in their religion,
they were so unpractical in every-day life; the religion of the
Westerns is mystical and full of paradoxes. Yet they are far more
practical. "The Eastern says fate governs everything and he sits and
looks pretty; we believe in Free-will and Predestination and we
invent Babbage's Calculating Machine."

As the group grew into one another's thought the talk intensified and
we got from considering East and West to considering our own
countrymen. What makes a man essentially English? Dickens had it.
Johnson had it. "You couldn't," said G.K., "imagine a Scotch Johnson,
or an Irish Johnson, or a French or German Johnson."

George Wyndham told us, as we got on to the topic of patriotism, that
he had a fear he hardly liked to utter. As we urged him he said he
feared a big war might come and we might be defeated. Gilbert agreed
that he too had felt that fear. "But," he said, "if you were to say
that in the House or I to write it in a paper we should be denounced
as unpatriotic."

Small wonder the talk had time to range, for these scrappy notes are
all that remain of a meeting beginning about one o'clock and lasting
until five. At that hour two little old sisters, the Miss Blounts,
known in our family as "the little B's," happened to call on my
mother. I shall never forget their faces as they looked at the huge
man in the armchair, and the other guests all absorbed and animated,
and realised that they were interrupting a luncheon party. A swift
glance at the little old ladies, another at the clock, and the party
broke up, to remain my most cherished memory for months: until my
next visit to their home, when Gilbert and I arrived at the use of
each other's Christian names, an agreement that he insisted on
calling The Pact of Beaconsfield.

How deep he saw when in his "Defence of Hermits" he analysed a chief
joy of human intercourse:

   . . . The best things that happen to us are those we get out of
   what has already happened. If men were honest with themselves, they
   would agree that actual social engagements, even with those they
   love, often seem strangely brief, breathless, thwarted or
   inconclusive. Mere society is a way of turning friends into
   acquaintances. The real profit is not in meeting our friends, but in
   having met them. Now when people merely plunge from crush to crush,
   and from crowd to crowd, they never discover the positive joy of
   life. They are like men always hungry, because their food never
   digests; also, like those men, they are cross.*

[* _The Well and the Shallows_, pp. 104-5.]

There was time in the country for the food of social intercourse to
digest. I notice too that in the list of Gilbert's friends
quiet-voiced men stood high: Max Beerbohm, Jack Phillimore, Monsignor
O'Connor, Monsignor Knox, his own father, Maurice Baring: all these
represent a certain spaciousness and leisureliness which was what he
asked of friendship. Even if they were in a hurry, they never seemed

Jack Phillimore both he and we saw on and off at this time but had
often to enjoy in anticipation or in retrospect. Professor, at one
time of Greek at another of Latin, at Glasgow University, he was the
kind of man Gilbert specially appreciated: he wrote of Phillimore
after his death something curiously like what he wrote of his own
father--"he was a supreme example of unadvertised greatness, and the
thing which is larger inside than outside." At Oxford Phillimore had
been known as "one of Belloc's lambs." He was very much one of the
group who were to run the _Eye-Witness_ and _New Witness_ but though
he always adored Belloc, no one who knew him in the fulness of his
powers could think of him as anyone's lamb. He was a quiet, humorous,
deeply intelligent man: a scholar of European repute, whose knowledge
of Mediaeval Latin verse equalled his Classical scholarship.

Gilbert's keen observation of his friends is never shown better than
in what he wrote of Phillimore:

   Like a needle pricking a drum, his quietude seemed to kill all the
   noise of our loud plutocracy and publicity. In all this he was
   supremely the scholar, with not a little of the satirist.

   And yet there was never any man alive who was so unlike a don. His
   religion purged him of intellectual pride, and certainly of that
   intellectual vanity which so often makes a sort of seething fuss
   underneath the acid sociability of academic centres. He had none of
   the tired omniscience which comes of intellectual breeding in and in.
   He seemed to be not so much a professor as a practiser of learning.
   He practised it quietly but heartily and humorously, exactly as if it
   had been any other business. If he had been a sailor, like his father
   the Admiral, he would have minded his own business with exactly the
   same smile and imperceptible gesture. Indeed, he looked much more
   like a sailor than a professor; his dark square face and clear eyes
   and compact figure were of a type often seen among sailors; and in
   whatever academic enclave he stood, he always seemed to have walked
   in from outside, bringing with him some of the winds of the world and
   some light from the ends of the earth.*

[* _G.K.'s Weekly_, Nov. 27, 1926.]

To return to my own notes. It is horribly characteristic that I wrote
them in an undated notebook, but I think that luncheon which lasted
so long must have been in 1911. The same year my father persuaded
both the Synthetic Society to elect Chesterton and Chesterton to
attend the Synthetic. Of his first meeting my father wrote to George

   Had you been at the Synthetic last night you would have witnessed a
   memorable scene.

   Place: Westminster Palace Hotel. Time: 9.40.

   A. J. B. [Arthur Balfour, leader of the Conservative Party] is
   speaking persuasively and in carefully modulated tones to an
   attentive audience. Suddenly a crash as though the door were blown
   open. A. J. B. brought to a halt. The whole company look round and in
   rushes a figure exactly like the pictures of Mr. Wind when he blows
   open the door and forces an entrance in the German child's story "Mr.
   Wind and Madame Rain"--a figure enormous and distended, a kind of
   walking mountain but with large rounded corners. It was G. K. C. who,
   enveloped in a huge Inverness cape of light colour, thus made his
   debut at the Synthetic. He rushed (not walked) to a chair, and was
   dragged chair and all by Waggett and me as near as might be to the
   table, where with a fresh crash he deposited his stick, and then his
   hat. And there he sat, eager and attentive, forgetting all about his
   stick and hat and coat, filling up the whole space at the bottom of
   the table, drawing caricatures of the company on a sheet of foolscap,
   a memorable figure, very welcome to me, but arousing the fury of the
   conventional and the "dreary and well-informed" well represented by
   Bailey Saunders who has been at me here half the morning trying to
   convince me that he will ruin the society and ought never to have
   been elected.

Some of the reactions of this new recruit have been touched on in his

   There I met old Haldane, yawning with all his Hegelian abysses, who
   appeared to me as I must have appeared to a neighbour in a local
   debating club when he dismissed metaphysical depths and pointed at me
   saying: "There is that Leviathan whom Thou hast made to take his
   sport therein." . . .

   There also I met Balfour, obviously preferring any philosophers
   with any philosophies to his loyal followers of the Tory Party.
   Perhaps religion is not the opium of the people, but philosophy is
   the opium of the politicians.

My father belonged to another group besides the Synthetic Society for
which it seemed to him that Gilbert was even more ideally fitted.
_The_ Club was founded by Dr. Johnson, the home of the best talk in
the land, where Garrick and Goldsmith were at times shouted down by
the great Lexicographer--a sign, said Chesterton, of his modesty and
his essential democracy: Johnson was too democratic to reign as king
of his company: he preferred to contend with them as an equal. The
old formula still in use had informed my father "you have had the
honour to be elected," but Wilfrid Ward felt that the election of the
modern Dr. Johnson would be an honour to The Club. To his intense
disgust he found that only George Wyndham could be relied upon for
whole-hearted support. What may be called the "social" element in the
Club had become too strong to welcome a man who boasted in all
directions of belonging to the Middle Classes and whose friends
merely urged the claim that he was one of the few today who could
talk as well as Johnson.

Gilbert met many politicians in other ways but only with one of them
did he feel a really close harmony. Of George Wyndham's opinions he
said in the _Autobiography_ that they were "of the same general
colour as my own," and he went on to stress the word "colour" as
significant of the whole man. To depict him in political cartoons as
"St. George" had not in it the sort of absurdity of the pictures of
the more frigid and philosophic Balfour as "Prince Arthur." George
really did suggest the ages of chivalry. "He had huge sympathy with
gypsies and tramps." There was about him "an inward generosity that
gave a gusto or relish to all he did."

The Chestertons' appreciation of George Wyndham was deepened for them
both by an affection, indeed almost a reverence, for "the deep
mysticism of his wife; a woman not to be forgotten by anyone who ever
knew her, and still less to be merely praised by anyone who
adequately appreciated her." For a period at any rate Gilbert and
Frances were much in contact with the extreme Anglo-Catholic group in
the Church of England. In the best of that group--and many of them
are very very good--there is a sense of taking part in a crusade to
restore Catholicism to the whole country. Canon Scott Holland led a
campaign for social justice and many of the same group mixed this
with devotion to Our Lady, belief in the Real Presence, and a
profound love of the Catholic past of England. George Wyndham's wife,
Lady Grosvenor, was one of this group and also her friend Father
Philip Waggett of the Cowley Fathers. Father Waggett, a member of the
Synthetic Society and intimate with my parents, became also intimate
with the Chestertons.

Ralph Adams Cram described his own meeting with Chesterton, arranged
by Father Waggett.

   Father Waggett asked my wife and myself once when we were staying
   in London, whom we would like best to meet--"anyone from the King
   downward." We chose Chesterton who was a very particular friend of
   Father Waggett. At that time we put on a dinner at the Buckingham
   Palace Hotel (in those days the haunt of all the County families) and
   in defiance of fate, had this dinner in the public dining room. We
   had as guests Father Waggett, G. K. C. and Mrs. Chesterton. The
   entrance into the dining room of the short processional created
   something of a sensation amongst the aforesaid County families there
   assembled. Father Waggett, thin, cropheaded monk in cassock and rope;
   G. K. C., vast and practically globular; little Mrs. Chesterton, very
   South Kensington in moss green velvet; my wife and myself.

   The dinner was a riot. I have the clearest recollection of G. K. C.
   seated ponderously at the table, drinking champagne by magnums,
   continually feeding his face with food which, as he was constantly
   employed in the most dazzling and epigrammatic conversation, was apt
   to fall from his fork and rebound from his corporosity, until the
   fragments disappeared under the table.

   He and Father Waggett egged each other on to the most preposterous
   amusements. Each would write a triolet for the other to illustrate.
   They were both as clever with the pencil as with the pen, and they
   covered the backs of menus with most astonishing literary and
   artistic productions. I particularly remember G. K. C. suddenly
   looking out of the dining room window towards Buckingham Palace and
   announcing that he was now prepared "to write a disloyal triolet!"
   This was during the reign of King Edward VII, and the result was
   convincing. I have somewhere the whole collection of these literary
   productions with their illustrations, but where they are I do not

[* _Chesterton_ by Cyril Clemens, pp. 36-37.]

On a second visit of the Chestertons to Lotus, George Wyndham was
there. He had told us of his habit of "shouting the Ballad of the
White Horse to submissive listeners" and we had hoped for the same
treat. But Gilbert got the book and kicked it under his chair defying
us to recover it. We had at that time a vast German cook--of a girth
almost equal to his own and possessed of unbounded curiosity in the
matter of our guests. Gilbert declared that as he sat peacefully in
the drawing room she approached him holding out a paper which he
supposed to be a laundry list, and then started back exclaiming that
she had thought him to be Mrs. Ward.

It was on this visit that he remarked to a lady who happened to be
the granddaughter of a Duke: "You and I who belong to the jolly old
upper Middle Classes." Had he been told about her ancestry he would,
I imagine, have felt that he had paid her an implied compliment by
not being aware of it. For into the world of the aristocracy he and
Frances had been received in London, and he viewed it with the same
calm humour and potential friendliness as he had for all the rest of
mankind. When Frances in her Diary pitied the Duchess of Sutherland
and felt that a single day of such a life as the Duchess lived would
drive her crazy, she was expressing Gilbert's taste as well as her
own for a certain simplicity of life. Social position neither excited
nor irritated him. He liked or disliked an aristocrat exactly as he
liked or disliked a postman. Gilbert and Cecil Chesterton really
were, as Conrad Noel said, personally unconcerned about class. They
had, however, a principle against the position of the English
aristocracy which will be better understood in the light of their
general social and historical outlook. What might be called the
social side of it was often expressed by G.K. when lecturing on
Dickens. Thus, speaking at Manchester for the Dickens centenary, he
was reported as saying:

   The objection to aristocracy was quite simple. It was not that
   aristocrats were all blackguards. It was that in an aristocratic
   state, people sat in a huge darkened theatre and only the stage was
   lighted. They saw five or six people walking about and they said,
   "That man looks very heroic striding about with a sword." Plenty of
   people outside in the street looked more heroic striding about with
   an umbrella; but they did not see these things, all the lights being
   turned out. That was the really philosophic objection to an
   aristocratic society. It was not that the lord was a fool. He was
   about as clever as one's own brother or cousin. It was because one's
   attention was confined to a few people that one judged them as one
   judged actors on the stage, forgetting everybody else.

Chesterton thought everybody should be remembered whether suburban,
proletarian, aristocrat or pauper. Shortly after the removal to
Beaconsfield he was summoned to give evidence before a Parliamentary
Commission on the question of censorship of the theatre. Keep it, he
said, to the surprise of many of his friends, but change the manner
of its exercise. Let it be no longer censorship by an expert but by a
jury--by twelve ordinary men. These will be the best judges of what
really makes for morality and sound sense. He had come to give
evidence, he said, not as a writer but as the representative of the
gallery, and he was concerned only with "the good and happiness of
the English people."

One bewildered Commissioner was understood to murmur that their terms
of reference were not quite so wide as that.

The chapter in the _Autobiography_ called "Friendships and Foolery"
ends suddenly with a reference to the war but, like the whole book,
it leaps wildly about. One point in it is interesting and links up
with the introduction to Titterton's _Drinking Songs_ that Gilbert
later wrote. To shout a chorus is natural to mankind and G.K. claims
that he had done it long before he heard of Community Singing. He
sang when out driving, or walking over the moors with Father
O'Connor; he sang in Fleet Street with Titterton and his journalist
friends; he sang the _Red Flag_ on Trade Union platforms and _England
Awake_ in Revolutionary groups. There was, he claims, a legend that
in Auberon Herbert's rooms not far from Buckingham Palace "we sang
Drake's Drum with such passionate patriotism that King Edward the
Seventh sent in a request for the noise to stop."

Yet it was all but impossible to teach Gilbert a tune, and Bernard
Shaw felt this (as we have seen) a real drawback to his friend's
understanding of his own life and career. Music was to Shaw what line
and color were to Chesterton; but to Chesterton singing was just
making a noise to show he felt happy. Once he wrote a poem called
"Music"--but only as one more flower in the wreath he was always
weaving for Frances--who was, says Monsignor Knox, the heroine of all
his novels.*

[* _The Listener_, June 19, 1941.]

   Sounding brass and tinkling cymbal,
   He that made me sealed my ears,
   And the pomp of gorgeous noises,
   Waves of triumph, waves of tears,

   Thundered empty round and past me,
   Shattered, lost for evermore,
   Ancient gold of pride and passion,
   Wrecked like treasure on a shore.

   But I saw her cheek and forehead
   Change, as at a spoken word,
   And I saw her head uplifted
   Like a lily to the Lord.

   Nought is lost, but all transmuted,
   Ears are sealed, yet eyes have seen;
   Saw her smiles (0 soul be worthy!),
   Saw her tears (0 heart be clean!)*

[* _Collected Poems_, p. 129.]

Against the background of all these activities the books went on
pouring out as fast from Overroads as they had from Overstrand. A
town full of friends forty minutes' journey from London was not
exactly the desert into which admirers had advised Gilbert to flee,
but he would never have been happy in a desert: he needed human
company. He also needed to produce. "Artistic paternity," he once
said, "is as wholesome as physical paternity." And certainly he never
ceased to bring forth the children of his mind. Within two years of
the move seven books were published:

The Ball and the Cross, February 1910,
What's Wrong with the World, June 1910,
Alarms and Discursions, November 1910,
Blake, November 1910,
Criticisms and Appreciations of Dickens, January 1911,
Innocence of Father Brown, August 1911,
Ballad of the White Horse, August 1911.

Of these books, _Alarms and Discursions_ and the Dickens criticisms
are collections and arrangements of already published essays.
Meanwhile other essays were being written to become in turn other
books at a later date.

The _Blake_ is a brilliant short study of art and mysticism. After
reading it you feel you understand Blake in quite a new way. And then
you wonder--is this illumination light on Blake or simply light on
Chesterton? It must never be forgotten that the writer was himself a
"spoilt" artist--which means a man with almost enough art in him to
have been in the ranks of men consecrated for life to art's service.

"Father Brown" had first made his appearance in magazines and these
detective stories became the most purely popular of Gilbert's books.
It was a new genre: detection in which the mind of a man means more
than his footprints or cigar ash, even to the detective. The one
reproduced in most anthologies--"The Invisible Man"--depends for its
solution on the fact that certain people are _morally_ invisible. To
the question "Has anyone been here" the answer "No" does not include
the milkman or the postman: thus the postman is the morally invisible
man who has committed the crime. A thread of this sort runs through
all the stories, but they are, like all his romances, full too of
escape and peril and wild adventure.

Life on several occasions imitated Gilbert's fancies. Thus the Azeff
revelations followed his fantastic idea in _The Man Who Was Thursday_
of the anarchists who turn out to be detectives in disguise. The
technique of Father Brown himself was imitated by a man in Detroit
who recovered a stolen car by putting himself imaginatively in the
thief's place and driving an exactly similar car around likely
corners till he came suddenly upon his own, left in a lonely road. He
wrote to tell Gilbert of this adventure.

From Chicago came an even odder example. "It is extremely difficult,"
wrote the _Tribune_, "to determine the proper relationship of the
Chiesa-Prudente-Di Cossato duels to Mr. Gilbert K. Chesterton's book,
_The Ball and the Cross"_ . . .

   The flight in search of a duelling ground; the pursuit by the
   police; the friendly intervention of the anarchist wineshop-keeper,
   Volpi; the offer of his backyard for fighting purposes; the
   unfriendly intervention of the police; the friendly intervention of
   the reporters; the renewed and insistently unfriendly intervention of
   the police commissioner; the disgust of the duellists; the extreme
   disgust of the anarchist; the renewed flight of the fighters,
   seconds, physicians, reporters, and the anarchist over the back
   fences--all these and other incidents are essentially Chestertonian.

   The Di Cossato affair was carried off with fully as much spirit and
   dash; with fully as many automobiles, seconds, physicians, reporters
   and police, all scampering over the country roads until the artistic
   deputy and the aged veteran of the war of 1859, outdistancing their
   pursuers, could find opportunity in comparative peace to cut the
   glorious gashes of satisfied honour in each other's faces.*

[* _Chicago Tribune_, 12 March 1910.]

Two months after this an interviewer from the _Daily News_ visited
Beaconsfield and splashed headlines in the paper to the effect that
the spirit of Chesterton was inspiring a fight between the
leaseholders in Edwardes Square and a firm which had bought up their
garden to erect a super-garage. Barricades were erected by day and
destroyed in the night: a wild-eyed beadle held the fort with a
garden roller, and said G.K. "the creatures of my Napoleon [of
Notting Hill] have entered into the bodies of the staid burghers of

In none of these cases was there any likelihood, as the _Chicago
Tribune_ noted, of the actors in life having read the books they were
spiritedly staging. "Ideas have a life of their own," the _Daily
News_ interviewer tentatively ventured, but he may have been puzzled
as G.K. "agreed heartily" in the words, "I am no dirty nominalist."

Chesterton kept the reviewers busy as well as the interviewers and in
all his stories they noted one curiosity: "If time and space--or any
circumstances--interfere with the cutting of his Gordian knots, he
commands time and space to make themselves scarce, and circumstances
to be no more heard of."

About time and space this is true in a unique degree. For him time
seems to have had no existence, or perhaps rather to have been like a
telescope elongating and shortening at will. As a young man, it may
be remembered, he gave in the course of one letter two quite
irreconcilable statements of the length of time since events in his
school days. He had indeed the same difficulty about time as about
money--he mentions in the _Autobiography_ that after his watch was
stolen during a pro-Boer demonstration he never bothered to possess
another. In his stories this oddity became more marked. In _The Ball
and the Cross_ he relates adventures performed in leaping on and off
an omnibus in such fashion that the bus must have covered several
miles of ground: and then we are suddenly told it had gone the few
score yards from the bottom of Ludgate Hill to the top. Still
stranger are the records in _The Man Who Was Thursday_ and _Manalive_
of the happenings of a single day, while in _The Return of Don
Quixote_ a new organisation of society is described as though many
years old and then suddenly announced as having been on foot some

But to return for one moment to the more serious aspects of the work
of these years. While _What's Wrong with the World_ (discussed in
some detail in the next chapter) is the first sketch of his social
views--a kind of blueprint for a sane and human sort of world--the
other books with all their foolery hold a serious purpose. They
should be read as illustrations of the philosophy of _Orthodoxy_--
both the book he had written and the thing of which he had said "God
and humanity made it and it made me."

"This row of shapeless and ungainly monsters which I now set before
the reader," he says of his essays (in the "Introduction on
Gargoyles" in _Alarms and Discursions_), "does not consist of
separate idols cut out capriciously in lonely valleys or various
islands. These monsters are meant for the gargoyles of a definite
cathedral. I have to carve the gargoyles, because I can carve nothing
else; I leave to others the angels and the arches and the spires. But
I am very sure of the style of the architecture and of the
consecration of the church."

The story of _The Ball and the Cross_, already indicated to the
reader by the American-Italian duel which seemed like a parody of it,
has the double interest of its bearing on the world of Chesterton's
day and its glimpses at a stranger world to come. A young Highlander,
coming to London, sees in an atheist bookshop an insult to Our Lady.
He smashes the window and challenges the owner to a duel. Turnbull,
the atheist, is more than ready to fight; but the world, caring
nothing for religious opinions, regards anyone ready to fight for
them as a madman and is mainly concerned with keeping the peace.
Pursued by all the resources of modern civilisation, the two men
spend the rest of the book starting to fight, being interrupted and
arrested by the police, escaping, arguing and fighting again. They
end up in an asylum with a garden where again they talk endlessly and
where the power of Lucifer the prince of this world has enclosed
everyone who has been concerned in their wild flight, so that no
memory of it may live on the earth.

The two sides of Chesterton's brain are engaged in the duel of minds
in this book, and some of his best writing is in it, both in the
description of the wild rush across sea and land and in the
discussions between the two men. G.K.'s affection for the sincere
atheist is noteworthy and his hatred is reserved for the shuffler and
the compromiser. It was grand to have such a man as Turnbull to
convert--"one of those men in whom a continuous appetite and industry
of the intellect leave the emotions very simple and steady. His heart
was in the right place but he was quite content to leave it there.
His head was his hobby." This might be Chesterton himself--in fact,
it is Chesterton himself--and the climax belongs to a later world
than that of 1911. For pointing to the Ball bereft of the Cross, the
Highlander calls out: "It staggers, Turnbull. It cannot stand by
itself; you know it cannot. It has been the sorrow of your life.
Turnbull, this garden is not a dream, but an apocalyptic fulfillment.
This garden is the world gone mad."

About the time this book appeared Gilbert was asked by an Anglican
Society to lecture at Coventry. He said "What shall I lecture on?"
They answered "Anything from an elephant to an umbrella." "Very
well," he said, "I will lecture on an umbrella." He treated the
umbrella as a symbol of increasing artificiality. We wear hair to
protect the head, a hat to protect the hair, an umbrella to protect
the hat. Gilbert said once he was willing to start anywhere and
develop from anything the whole of his philosophy. In the Notebook
he had written:


   Once I looked down at my bootlaces
   Who gave me my bootlaces?
   The bootmaker? Bah!
   Who gave the bootmaker himself?
   What did I ever do that I should be given bootlaces?

After the lecture on the umbrella two priests saw him at the railway
bookstall and asked him if the rumour was true that he was thinking
of joining the Church. He answered, "It's a matter that is giving me
a great deal of agony of mind, and I'd be very grateful if you would
pray for me."

The following year he broached the subject to Father O'Connor when
they were alone in a railway carriage. He said he had made up his
mind, but he wanted to wait for Frances "as she had led him into the
Anglican Church out of Unitarianism." Frances told Father O'Connor
when he came to Overroads later, at the beginning of Gilbert's
illness, that she "could not make head or tail" of some of her
husband's remarks, especially one about being buried at Kendal Green.
When Father O'Connor told her what had been on Gilbert's mind she was
half amused at the hints he had been dropping: she recognised his
reluctance to move without her, but I think she probably realised too
that even to himself his conviction seemed in those years at times
more absolute, at times less. We shall see in a later chapter his own
analysis of his very slow progress. Meanwhile in his books he was at
once deepening and widening his vision of the faith.

Fragments of verse used in _The Ballad of the White Horse_ had come
to Gilbert in his sleep; a great white horse had been the romance of
his childhood; the beginning of his honeymoon under the sign of the
White Horse at Ipswich had been "a trip to fairyland." But it is hard
to say when the motif of the White Horse, the verses ringing in his
head, and the ideas that make the poem, came together into what many
think the greatest work of his life.

In _Father Brown on Chesterton_ we are told of the long time the poem
took in the making. They talked of it on the Yorkshire moors in 1906
and Father O'Connor noted how Frances "cherished it. . . . I could
see she was more in love with it than with anything else he had in
hand." Father O'Connor also gives some interesting illustrations of
the way talk ministers to a work of genius. He had begun one day "by
saying lightly that none of us could become great men without leaning
on the little ones: could not well begin our day but for those who
started theirs first for our sake, lighting the fire and cooking the
breakfast." This was said just before the dressing bell rang and
between the bell and dinner Gilbert had written about nine verses
beginning with King Alfred's meditation:

   And well may God with the serving folk
   Cast in His dreadful lot
   Is not He too a servant
   And is not He forgot?

In 1907, Gilbert published in the _Albany Review_ a "Fragment from a
Ballad Epic of Alfred" which evoked the comment "Mr. Chesterton
certainly has in each eye a special Röntgen ray attachment."

He wrote _The White Horse_ guided by his favourite theory that to
realise history we should not delve into the details of research but
try only to see the big things--for it is those that we generally

   People talk about features of interest; but the features never make
   up a face. . . . They will toil wearily off to the tiniest inscription
   or darkest picture that is mentioned in a guide book as having some
   reference to Alfred the Great or William the Conqueror; but they care
   nothing for the sky that Alfred saw or the hills on which William

In the King Alfred country especially can be found "the far-flung
Titanic figure of the Giant Albion whom Blake saw in visions,
spreading to our encircling seas."*

[* _G.K.'s Weekly_, Apr. 16, 1927.]

Gilbert wrote a sketch for the _Daily News_ about this time, telling
how an old woman in a donkey cart whom they had left far behind on
the road went driving triumphantly past when the car they were in
broke down. For this expedition, as so often later, he made full use
of the modern invention he derided. In an open touring car hired for
the occasion, Gilbert in Inverness cape and shapeless hat, Frances
beside him snugly wrapped up, they

   Saw the smoke-hued hamlets quaint
   With Westland King and Westland Saint,
   And watched the western glory faint
   Along the road to Frome.

The note struck in the dedication and recurring throughout the poem
is that of the Christian idea which had made England great and which
he had learnt from Frances:

   Wherefore I bring these rhymes to you
   Who brought the cross to me,
   Since on you flaming without flaw
   I saw the sign that Guthrum saw
   When he let break his ships of awe
   And laid peace on the sea.

In the poem Christian men, whether they be Saxon or Roman or Briton
or Celt, are banded together to fight the heathen Danes in defence of
the sacred things of faith, in defence of the human things of daily
life, in defence even of the old traditions of pagan England

   . . . because it is only Christian men
   guard even heathen things.

Gilbert constantly disclaimed the idea that he took trouble over
anything: "taking trouble has never been a weakness of mine": but in
what might be termed a large and loose way he really did take immense
trouble over what interested him. King Alfred is not an almost
mythical figure like King Arthur and an outline of his story with
legendary fringes can be traced in the Wessex country and confirmed
by literature. Gilbert wanted this general story: he did not want
antiquarian exactness of detail.

Into the mouths of Guthrum and of King Alfred, he put the expression
of the pagan and the Christian outlook. Nor did he hesitate to let
King Alfred prophesy at large concerning the days of G. K.
Chesterton. The poem is a ballad in the sense of the old ballads that
were stirring stories: it is also an expression of the threefold love
of Gilbert's life: his wife, his country and his Faith. And as in all
great poetry, there is a quality of eternity in this poem that has
made it serve as an expression of the eternal Spirit of man.

During the first world war many soldiers had it with them in the
trenches: "I want to tell you," the widow of a sailor wrote, "that a
copy of the Ballad of the White Horse went down into the Humber with
the R.38. My husband loved it as his own soul--never went anywhere
without it."

Almost thirty years have passed and today the poem still speaks.
Greeting Jacques Maritain on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday,
Dorothy Thompson quoted King Alfred's assertion of Christian freedom
against "the pagan nazi conquerors of his day." After Crete the
_Times_ had the shortest first leader in its history. Under the
heading _Sursum Corda_ was a brief statement of the disaster,
followed by the words of Our Lady to King Alfred:

   I tell you naught for your comfort,
   Yea, naught for your desire,
   Save that the sky grows darker yet
   And the sea rises higher.
   Night shall be thrice night over you,
   And heaven an iron cope.
   Do you have joy without a cause,
   Yea, faith without a hope?

The unbreakable strength of that apparently faint and tenuous thread
of faith appeared in the sequel. Many had the ballad in hand in those
dark days; many others wrote to the _Times_ asking the source of the
quotation. Months later when Winston Churchill spoke of "the end of
the beginning," the _Times_ returned to _The White Horse_ and gave
the opening of Alfred's speech at Ethandune:

   "The high tide!" King Alfred cried.
   "The high tide and the turn!"


The Disillusioned Liberal

_The English were not wrong in loving liberty. They were only wrong
in losing it_.

_G.K.'s Weekly_, June 1, 1933.

ONE MAIN DIFFICULTY in writing biography lies in the various strands
that run through every human life. It is as I have already said
impossible to keep a perfect chronological order with anyone whose
occupations and interests were so multifarious. In the present
chapter and the two that follow we shall consider the movement of
Chesterton's mind upon politics and sociology. This will involve
going back to the general election of 1906 and forward to the Marconi
Trial of 1913. For those who are interested in his poetry or his
humour or his philosophy or his theology but not at all in his
sociological and political outlook, I fear that these three chapters
may loom a little uninvitingly. If they are tempted to skip them
altogether, I shall not blame them; yet they will miss a great deal
that is vital to the understanding of his whole mind and the course
his life was to take. These are not the most entertaining chapters in
the book, but if we are really to know Chesterton the events they
cover must be considered most carefully.

As a boy Gilbert Chesterton spoke of politics as absorbing "for every
ardent intellect"; and during these years he was himself deeply
concerned with the politics of England. The ideal Liberalism sketched
in his letter to Hammond during the Boer War [Chapter X] had appeared
to him, if not perfectly realised, at least capable of realisation,
in the existing Liberal Party. The Tory Party was in power and all
its acts, to say nothing of its general ineptitude, appeared to
Liberals as positive arguments for their own party. At this date so
convinced a Tory as Lord Hugh Cecil could describe his own party as
"to mix metaphors, an eviscerated ruin."* Several letters and
postcards from Mr. Belloc announcing his own election as Liberal
member for South Salford show the high hope with which young
Liberalism was viewing the world in 1906:

[* In a letter to Wilfrid Ward.]


   I have, as you will have seen, pulled it off by 852. It is huge
   fun. I am now out against all Vermin: Notably South African Jews. The
   Devil is let loose: let all men beware. H. B.

   (Written across top of letter)

   Tomorrow Monday Meet the Manchester train arriving Euston 6.10 and
   oblige your little friend HB   _St. Hilary's Day_.

   Don't fail to meet that train. Stamps are cheap! HB

   I beg you. I implore you. _Meet that 6.10 train_.


   Stamps are a drug in the market.
   Meet that train!
   Stamps are _given away_ now in _Salford_.

From 1902, when the general election left the Conservatives still in
power, until 1906 the Liberal party had been, as Chesterton described
it, "in the desert." And the younger members of the party were deeply
concerned with hammering out a positive philosophy which might
inspire a true programme for their own party. A group of them wrote a
book called _England A Nation_ with the sub-title _Papers of A
Patriot's Club_. The Patriot's Club had no real existence, but I
imagine that Lucian Oldershaw who edited the book believed that its
publication might create the club. Belloc was not one of the
contributors, but Hugh Law wrote ably on Ireland, J. L. Hammond on
South Africa, and Conrad Noel, Henry Nevinson and C. F. G. Masterman
on other aspects of the political scene.

The whole book is on a fairly high level but Chesterton's essay was
the only one much noticed by reviewers. It was the introductory
chapter, far longer than any of the others, and gave the key to the
whole book. Entitled "The idea of Patriotism" it was, like _The
Napoleon of Notting Hill_, which it does much to illumine, a plea for
patriotism that was really for England and not for the British
Empire. Such a patriotism recognizes the limitations proper to
nationality and admits, nay admires, other patriotisms for other
nations. Thus, in Chesterton's eyes a true English patriot should
also be an ardent home ruler for Ireland since Ireland too was a

He stressed the danger that the nationhood of England should be
absorbed and lost in the Imperial idea. The claim that in an empire
the various races could learn much from one another he considered a
bit of special pleading on the part of Imperialists. England had
learned much from France and Germany but, although Ireland had much
to teach, we had not learned from Ireland. The real patriotism of the
Englishman had been dimmed both by the emphasis on the Imperial idea
and by the absence of roots in his own land. The governing classes
had destroyed those roots and had almost forgotten the existence of
the people. From the dregs and off-scourings of the population a vast
empire had been created, but the people of England were not allowed
to colonize England.

The Education Bill of 1902, brought in by the Conservatives and
giving financial support to Church schools, saw Gilbert in general
agreement with the Liberal attacks. He did not yet appreciate the
Catholic idea that education must be of one piece and he did not
think it fair that the country should support specifically Catholic
schools. Parents could give at home the religious instruction they
wanted their children to have. But with that fairness of mind which
made it so hard for him to be a party man he saw why the Liberal
"compromise" of simple Bible teaching for all in the State schools
could not be expected to satisfy Catholics. He wrote to the _Daily

   The Bible compromise is certainly in favour of the Protestant view
   of the Bible. The thing, properly stated, is as plain as the nose on
   your face. Protestant Christianity believes that there is a Divine
   record in a book; that everyone ought to have free access to that
   book; that everyone who gets hold of it can save his soul by it,
   whether he finds it in a library or picks it off a dustcart. Catholic
   Christianity believes that there is a Divine army or league upon
   earth called the Church; that all men should be induced to join it;
   that any man who joins it can save his soul by it without ever
   opening any of the old books of the Church at all. The Bible is only
   one of the institutions of Catholicism, like its rites or its
   priesthood; it thinks the Bible only efficient when taken as part of
   the Church. . . . This being so, a child could see that if you have
   the Bible taught alone, anyhow, by anybody, you do definitely decide
   in favour of the first view of the Bible and against the second.

Discussing a few years later whether it was possible or satisfactory
to teach the Bible simply as Literature he put his finger on the
Catholic objection. "I should not mind," he said, "children being
told about Mohammed because I am not a Mohammedan. If I were a
Mohammedan I should very much want to know what they were told about

While as for the unfortunate teacher: in case a child should ask if
the things in the Bible happened, "Either the teacher must answer him
insincerely and that is immorality, or he must answer him sincerely,
and that is sectarian education, or he must refuse to answer him at
all, and that is first of all bad manners and a sort of timid
tyranny . . ."

Chesterton's Liberalism received a further shock from the fact that
Liberals, in attacking the Bill, were attacking also the Catholic
faith and raising the cry of No Popery. In a correspondence with Dr.
Clifford he reminded him of how they had stood together against
popular fanaticism during the Boer War.

   There are two cries always capable of raising the English in their
   madness--one that the Union Jack is being pulled down, and one that
   the Pope is being set up. And upon the man who raises one of them
   responsibility will lie heavy till the last day. For when they are
   raised, the best are mixed with the worst, every rational compromise
   is dashed to pieces, every opponent is given credit for the worst
   that the worst of his allies has by his worst enemy been said to
   have said. That horror of darkness swept across us when the war
   began. . . .

   Beyond all question this is true--that if we choose to fight on the
   "No Popery" cry, we may win. But I can imagine something of which I
   should be prouder than of any victory--the memory that we had shown
   our difference from Mr. Chamberlain simply and finally in this--that
   to our hand had lain (as it once laid to his) an old, an effectual,
   an infallible, and a filthy weapon, and that we let it lie.*

[* Letter to the _Daily News_, October 1902.]

Yet it was fairly easy to be a Liberal in opposition. At the
elections of 1902 (which the Liberals lost) and 1906 (which they won)
Chesterton canvassed for the Liberal party. Charles Masterman used to
tell a story of canvassing a street in his company. Both started at
the same end on opposite sides of the road. Masterman completed his
side and came back on the other to find Chesterton still earnestly
arguing at the first house. For he was passionately serious in his
belief that the Liberal Party stood for a real renewal, even
revolution, in the life of England. "At the present moment of
victory," says the report of a speech by Gilbert following the great
swing of the Liberal party into power in 1906, he called for "that
magnanimity towards the defeated that characterized all great
conquerors. It was important that all should develop--even the Tory."
It needed the experience of seeing the Liberal party in power to
shake his faith.

In the new House of Commons the Conservatives were in a minority:
against them were the two old parties--the Liberals and the Irish
members who were in general allied to them, and a small group forming
a new party known as Labour. The Labour Members who got into
Parliament in 1906 and 1909 were regarded by Conservatives as being a
kind of left-wing extension of the Liberal Party. Such a Liberal as
Chesterton saw them there with delight, and, although he would still
have called himself a Liberal, he at first hoped in the Labour men as
something more truly expressive of the people's wishes.

In an introduction to _From Workhouse to Westminster_, a life of Will
Crooks, Gilbert expressed a good deal of his own political
philosophy. As a democrat he believed in the ideal of direct
government by the people. But obviously this was only possible in a
world that was also his ideal--a world consisting of small and even
of very small states. The democrat's usual alternative,
representative government, was, Gilbert said, symbolic in character.
Just as religious symbolism "may for a time represent a real emotion
and then for a time cease to represent anything, so representative
government may for a time represent the people, and for a time cease
to represent anything."

Further, the very idea of representation itself involved two
perfectly distinct notions: a man throws a shadow or he throws a
stone. "In the first sense, it is supposed that the representative is
like the thing he represents. In the second case, it is only supposed
that the representative is useful to the thing he represents."
Workmen, like Conservatives, sent men to Parliament not to show what
they themselves were like, but to attack the other party in their
name. "The Labour Members as a class are not representatives but
missiles. . . . Working men are not at all like Mr. Keir Hardie. If
it comes to likeness, working men are more like the Duke of
Devonshire. But they throw Mr. Keir Hardie at the Duke of Devonshire,
knowing that he is so curiously shaped as to hurt anything at which
he is thrown."* In the same way Mr. Balfour was entirely unlike the
Tory squires who used him as a weapon. To this rule, that men do not
choose to be represented by their like, Chesterton took Will Crooks
as the one exception:

[* Introduction to _From Workhouse to Westminster_, p. XV.]

   You have not yet seen the English people in politics. It has not
   yet entered politics. Liberals do not represent it; Tories do not
   represent it; Labour Members, on the whole, represent it rather less
   than Tories or Liberals. When it enters politics it will bring with
   it a trail of all the things that politicians detest; prejudices (as
   against hospitals), superstitions (as about funerals), a thirst for
   respectability passing that of the middle classes, a faith in the
   family which will knock to pieces half the Socialism of Europe. If
   ever that people enters politics it will sweep away most of our
   revolutionists as mere pedants. It will be able to point only to one
   figure, powerful, pathetic, humorous and very humble, who bore in any
   way upon his face the sign and star of its authority.*

[* Ibid., p. XX.]

It was sad enough after this to see Will Crooks fathering one of
those very Bills for the interference with family life which
Chesterton most hated. But, indeed, the years that followed the 1906
election are a story of a steadily growing disillusionment with the
realities of representative government in England.

Chesterton wrote regularly for the _Daily News_ and was regarded as
one of their most valuable contributors. But when, following an
attack in the House of Commons on the Liberal leader Campbell-Bannerman
over the sale of peerages, he sent in an article on the subject, the
Editor A. G. Gardiner wrote (July 12, 1907):

   I have left your article out tonight not because I do not entirely
   agree with its point of view but because just at this moment it would
   look like backing Lea's unmannerly attack on C. B. I am keeping the
   article in type for a later occasion when the general question is not
   complicated with a particularly offensive incident.

It was a test case, and it seemed to Chesterton not a question of
good manners, but of something far more fundamental. The assertion
had been made in the House of Commons that peerages were being sold,
and that the price of such sales was the chief support of the secret
party funds. But the _Daily News_ was a Liberal paper and this was an
attack on the Liberal party. Chesterton replied (July 11, 1907):

   I am sure you know by this time that I never resent the exclusion
   of my articles as such. I should always trust your literary judgment,
   if it were a matter of literature only: and I daresay you have often
   saved me from an indiscretion and your readers from a bore.
   Unfortunately this matter of the party funds is not one of that sort.
   My conscience does not often bother you, but just now the animal is
   awake and roaring. Your paper has always championed the rights of
   conscience, so mine naturally goes to you. If you disagreed with me,
   it would be another matter. But since you agree with me (as I was
   sure you would) it becomes simply a question of which is the more
   important, politeness or political morality. I agree that Lea did go
   to the point of being unmannerly. So did Plimsoll, so did Bradlaugh:
   so did the Irish members. But surely it would be a very terrible
   thing if anyone could say "The _Daily News_ suppressed all demand for
   the Plimsoll line," or "The _Daily News_ did not join in asking for
   Bradlaugh's political rights." I am sure that this is not your idea.
   You think that this matter can be better raised later on. I am
   convinced of its urgency. I am so passionately convinced of its
   urgency that if you will not help me to raise it now, I must try some
   other channel. They are going on Monday to raise a "breach of
   privilege" (which is simply an aristocratic censorship of the Press)
   in order to crush this question through the man who raised it: and to
   crush it forever. I have said that I think Lea's questions violent
   and needless. But they are not attacking his questions. They are
   attacking his letter, which contains nothing that I do not think,
   probably nothing that you do not think. Lea is to be humiliated and
   broken because he said that titles are bought; as they are: because
   he said that poor members are reminded of their dependence on the
   party funds; as they are: because he said that all this was hypocrisy
   of public life; as it is. . . .

   One thing is quite certain. Unless some Liberal journalists speak
   on Monday or Tuesday, the secret funds and the secret powers are
   safe. These Parliamentary votes mark eras: they are meant to. And
   that vote will not mark a defence of C. B. The letter had nothing to
   do with C. B. It will mark the final decision that any repetition of
   what Lea said in his letter is an insult to the House. That is, any
   protest against bought titles will be an insult to the House. Any
   protest against secret funds will be an insult to the House.

   I would willingly burn my article if I were only sure you would
   publish one yourself tomorrow on the same lines. But if not, here is
   at least one thing you can do. An article, even signed, may perhaps
   commit the paper too much. But your paper cannot be committed by
   publishing a letter from me stating my opinions. It might publish a
   letter from Joe Chamberlain, stating his opinions. I therefore send
   you a short letter, pointing out the evil, and disassociating it as
   far as possible from the indiscretions of Lea. I am sure you will
   publish this, for it is the mere statement of a private opinion and
   as I am not an M. P. I can say what I like about Parliament. You will
   not mind my confessing to you my conviction and determination in this
   matter. I do not think we could quarrel, even if we had to separate.

The letter was published, and was quoted in the House of Commons by
Lord Robert Cecil amid general applause. But it was twenty years
before a Bill was passed that forbade this particular unpleasantness.

While political corruption stirred Chesterton deeply, I think his
outlook was even more affected by the progressive Socialism of
Liberal legislation. He had honestly believed that the Liberal Party
stood, on the whole, for liberty. He found that it stood increasingly
for daily and hourly interference with the lives of the people. He
found too that the Liberal papers, which he held should have been
foremost in criticism of these measures, were as determined to uphold
measures brought in by a Liberal Government as they had been to
attack anything that the Tories brought forward.

It has been well said by Mr. Belloc that Chesterton could never write
as a party man. But to the ordinary party newspaper such an attitude
was utterly incomprehensible. I think that we can also see at this
point how alien his fundamental outlook was from that even of the
best members of his own Party. A great admirer said to me the other
day that it had taken her a long time to appreciate Chesterton's
sociology. "You see, I was brought up to think that it was quite
right for the poor to have their teeth brushed by officials." This is
undoubtedly the normal Socialistic outlook and the outlook most
abhorrent to Chesterton. "The philanthropist," he once said, "is not
a brother; he is a supercilious aunt."

The five years of Liberal Government had been disillusioning to many
others besides Belloc and the Chesterton brothers. Probably many men
in newspaper offices and elsewhere continued vaguely to support the
party to which their own paper belonged. But there were others who
were in those days going through a struggle between principles and
Party which became increasingly acute. Gilbert has described his own
feelings in a review of Galsworthy's play _Loyalties_, written
several years later during the first World War.

   . . . The author of _Loyalty_ suffers one simple and amazing
   delusion. He imagines that in those pre-war politics Liberalism was
   on the side of Labour. On this point at least I can correct him from
   the most concrete experience. In the newspaper office where his hero
   lingered, wondering how much longer he could stand its Pacifism, I
   was lingering and wondering how much longer I could stand its
   complete and fundamental Capitalism, its invariable alliance with the
   employer, its invariable hostility to the striker. No such scene as
   that in which the Liberal editor paced the room raving about his
   hopes of a revolution ever occurred in the Liberal newspaper office
   that I knew; the least hint of a revolution would have caused quite
   as much horror there as in the offices of the _Morning Post_. On
   nothing was the Pacifist more pacifist than upon that point. No
   workman so genuine as the workman who figures in _Loyalty_ ever
   figured among such Liberals. The fact is that such Liberalism was in
   no way whatever on the side of Labour; on the contrary, it was on the
   side of the Labour Party. . . .

Both Chesterton and Belloc had begun to point out that a Free Press
had almost disappeared from England. The revenue of most of the
newspapers depended not on subscriptions but on advertisement.
Therefore nothing could be said in them which was displeasing to
their wealthy advertisers. Nor was this the worst of it. Very rich
men were often owners of half a dozen papers or more and dictated
their policy. An outstanding example was Alfred Harmsworth--Lord
Northcliffe--whose newspapers ranged from the _Times_ through the
_Daily Mail_ to _Answers_. Thus to every section of the English
people, Harmsworth was able to convey day by day such news as he
thought best together with his own outlook and philosophy of life
such as it was. Still worse, the _Times_ had not lost in the eyes of
Europe, to say nothing of America, that reputation it had held so
long of being _the_ official expression of English opinion. It was
still the _Jupiter_ of Trollope's day, the maker of ministries or
their undoing. In the days of a Free Press a paper held such a
position in virtue of the talents of its staff. Editors were then
powerful individuals and would brook little interference. But today
the editor was commonly only the mouthpiece of the owner.

It is surprising that Gilbert and the official Liberal Press so long
tolerated one another. The _Daily News_ and other papers owned by Mr.
Cadbury (of Cadbury's Cocoa) were often referred to as "the Cocoa
Press" and it happened that it was not in the end political
disagreement alone that brought the Chesterton-Cadbury alliance to an
end. In one of Gilbert's poems in praise of wine are the lines:

   Cocoa is a cad and coward,
   Cocoa is a vulgar beast.

In the _Autobiography_ he tells us that after he had published the
poem he felt he could write no longer for the _Daily News_. He went
from the _Daily News_ to the _Daily Herald_, to the Editor of which
he wrote that the _News_ "had come to stand for almost everything I
disagree with; and I thought I had better resign before the next
great measure of social reform made it illegal to go on strike." G.K.
was a considerable asset to any paper and had recently been referred
to by Shaw (in a debate with Belloc) as "a flourishing property of
Mr. Cadbury's."

Politically the break was bound to come, for even when _Dickens_ was
published Gilbert Chesterton had reached the stage of saying "as much
as ever I did, more than ever I did, I believe in Liberalism. But
there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals." At
this time too he infuriated an orthodox Liberal journalist by saying
of the party leaders "some of them are very nice old gentlemen, some
of them are very nasty old gentlemen, and some of them are old
without being gentlemen at all." An orthodox church journalist in a
periodical charmingly entitled _Church Bells_ got angrier yet. "A
certain Mr. G. K. Chesterton," he wrote, had, when speaking for the
C.S.U. in St. Paul's Chapter House, remarked "the best of his
Majesty's Ministers are agnostics, and the worst devil worshippers."
_Church Bells_ cries out: "We only mention this vulgar falsehood
because we regret that an association, with which the names of many
of our respected ecclesiastics are connected, should have allowed the
bad taste and want of all gentlemanly feeling displayed by the words
quoted, to have passed unchallenged." "Vulgar falsehood" is surely

But perhaps even deeper than his disillusionment with any Party was
his growing sense of the unreality of the political scene. He has
described it in the _Autobiography:_

   I was finding it difficult to believe in politics; because the
   reality seemed almost unreal, as compared with the reputation or the
   report. I could give twenty instances to indicate what I mean, but
   they would be no more than indications, because the doubt itself was
   doubtful. I remember going to a great Liberal club, and walking about
   in a large crowded room, somewhere at the end of which a bald
   gentleman with a beard was reading something from a manuscript in a
   low voice. It was hardly unreasonable that we did not listen to him,
   because we could not in any case have heard; but I think a very large
   number of us did not even see him . . . it is possible, though not
   certain, that one or other of us asked carelessly what was supposed
   to be happening in the other corner of the large hall. . . . Next
   morning I saw across the front of my Liberal paper in gigantic
   headlines the phrase: "Lord Spencer Unfurls the Banner." Under this
   were other remarks, also in large letters, about how he had blown the
   trumpet for Free Trade and how the blast would ring through England
   and rally all the Free-Traders. It did appear, on careful
   examination, that the inaudible remarks which the old gentleman had
   read from the manuscript were concerned with economic arguments for
   Free Trade; and very excellent arguments too, for all I know. But the
   contrast between what that orator was to the people who heard him,
   and what he was to the thousands of newspaper-readers who did not
   hear him, was so huge a hiatus and disproportion that I do not think
   I ever quite got over it. I knew henceforward what was meant, or what
   might be meant, by a Scene in the House, or a Challenge from the
   Platform, or any of those sensational events which take place in the
   newspapers and nowhere else.*

[* Pp. 201-2.]

As in _Orthodoxy_ Chesterton had formulated his religious beliefs, so
in _What's Wrong with the World_ he laid the foundations of his
sociology. It will be remembered that, giving evidence before the
Commission on the Censorship, Chesterton declared himself to be
concerned only with the good and happiness of the English people.
Where he differed from nearly every other social reformer was that he
believed that they should themselves decide what was for their own
good and happiness.

"The body of ideas," says Monsignor Knox of Gilbert's sociology,
"which he labelled, rather carelessly, 'distributism' is a body of
ideas which still lasts, and I think will last, but it is not exactly
a doctrine, or a philosophy; it is simply Chesterton's reaction to

[* _The Listener_, June 19, 1941.]

It may be said that a man's philosophy is in the main a formulation
of his reaction to life. Anyhow life seems to be the operative
word--for it is the word that best conveys the richness of this first
book of Chesterton's sociology. All the wealth of life's joys, life's
experiences, is poured into his view of man and man's destiny.
Already developing manhood to its fullest potential he found in this
book a new form of expression. To quote Monsignor Knox again, "I call
that man intellectually great who is an artist in thought . . . I
call that man intellectually great who can work equally well in any
medium." The poet-philosopher worked surprisingly well in the medium
of sociology.

He had intended to call the book, "What's Wrong?" and it begins on
this note of interrogation. The chapter called "The Medical Mistake"
is a brilliant attack on the idea that we must begin social reform by
diagnosing the disease. "It is the whole definition and dignity of
man that in social matters we must actually find the cure before we
find the disease." The thing that is most terribly wrong with our
modern civilisation is that it has lost not only health but the clear
picture of health. The doctor called in to diagnose a bodily illness
does not say: we have had too much scarlet fever, let us try a little
measles for a change. But the sociological doctor does offer to the
dispossessed proletarian a cure which, says Chesterton, is only
another kind of disease. We cannot work towards a social ideal until
we are certain what that ideal should be. We must, therefore, begin
with principles and we are to find those principles in the nature of
man, largely through a study of his history. Man has had
historically--and man needs for his fulfilment--the family, the home
and the possession of property. The notion of property has, for the
modern age, been defiled by the corruptions of Capitalism; but modern
Capitalism is really a negation of property because it is a denial of
its limitations. He summarises this idea with one of his most
brilliant illustrations: "It is the negation of property that the
Duke of Sutherland should have all the farms in one estate; just as
it would be the negation of marriage if he had all our wives in one

But property in its real meaning is almost the condition for the
survival of the family. It is its protection, it is the opportunity
of its development. God has the joy of unlimited creation--He can
make something out of nothing; but He has given to Man the joy of
limited creation--Man can make something out of anything. "Fruitful
strife with limitations," self-expression "with limits that are
strict and even small,"--all this belongs to the artist, but also to
the average man. "Property is merely the art of the democracy."

The family, protected by the possession of some degree of property,
will grow by its own laws. What are these laws? Clearly there are two
sets of problems, one concerned with life within the family, the
other with the relation of the family to the state. These two sets of
problems provide the subject-matter of the book. On both Chesterton
felt that there had been insufficient thinking. Thus he says of the
first: "There is no brain-work in the thing at all; no root query of
what sex is, of whether it alters this or that." And of the second:
"It is quite unfair to say that Socialists believe in the State but
do not believe in the Family. But it is true to say that Socialists
are especially engaged in strengthening and renewing the State; and
they are not especially engaged in strengthening and renewing the
Family. They are not doing anything to define the functions of
father, mother and child, as such--they have no firm instinctive
sense of one thing being in its nature private and another public."

It is precisely this kind of root-thinking that the book does. In the
free family there will be a division of the two sides of life,
between the man and the woman. The man must be, to a certain extent,
a specialist; he must do one thing well enough to earn the daily
bread. The woman is the universalist; she must do a hundred things
for the safeguarding and development of the home. The modern fad of
talking of the narrowness of domesticity especially provoked
Chesterton. "I cannot," he said

   with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. When
   domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty
   arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means
   dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man
   might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at
   Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because
   it is trifling, colourless and of small import to the soul, then as I
   say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen
   Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labours
   and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys,
   boots, sheets, cakes and books; to be Aristotle within a certain
   area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can
   understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how
   it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other
   people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell
   one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the
   same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a
   woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not
   because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her
   task; I will never pity her for its smallness.*

[* _What's Wrong With the World_, chapter 3, "The Emancipation of

While he was writing these pages and after their appearance in print,
G.K. was constantly asked to debate the question of Women's Suffrage.
He was an anti-suffragist, partly because he was a democrat. The
suffrage agitation in England was conducted by a handful of women,
mainly of the upper classes; and it gave Cecil Chesterton immense
pleasure to head articles on the movement with the words, "Votes for
Ladies." G.K. too felt that the suffrage agitation was really doing
harm by dragging a red herring across the path of necessary social
reform. If the vast majority of women did not want votes it was
undemocratic to force votes upon them. Also, if rich men had
oppressed poor men all through the course of history, it was
exceedingly probable that rich women would also oppress poor women.
Both in _What's Wrong With the World_ and in debating on the subject,
Chesterton brushed aside as absurd and irrelevant the suggestion that
women were inferior to men and what was called the physical force
argument. But he did maintain that if the vote meant anything at all
(which it probably did not in the England he was living in), it meant
that side of life which belongs to masculinity and which the normal
woman dislikes and rather despises.

   All we men had grown used to our wives and mothers, and
   grandmothers, and great aunts all pouring a chorus of contempt upon
   our hobbies of sport, drink and party politics. And now comes Miss
   Pankhurst with tears in her eyes, owning that all the women were
   wrong and all the men were right. . . . We told our wives that
   Parliament had sat late on most essential business; but it never
   crossed our minds that our wives would believe it. We said that
   everyone must have a vote in the country; similarly our wives said
   that no one must have a pipe in the drawing-room. In both cases the
   idea was the same. "It does not matter much, but if you let those
   things slide there is chaos." We said that Lord Huggins or Mr.
   Buggins was absolutely necessary to the country. We knew quite well
   that nothing is necessary to the country except that the men should
   be men and the women women. We knew this; we thought the women knew
   it even more clearly; and we thought the women would say it.
   Suddenly, without warning, the women have begun to say all the
   nonsense that we ourselves hardly believed when we said it. . . .*

[* From chapter VII, _The Modern Surrender_.]

All the agitated reformers who were running about and offering their
various nostrums were prepared to confess that something had gone
very wrong with modern civilisation. But they suggested that what was
wrong with the present generation of adults could be set right for
the coming generation by means of education. In the last part of the
book, "Education or the Mistake about the Child," he put the
unanswerable question: How are we to give what we have not got? "To
hear people talk one would think [education] was some sort of magic
chemistry, by which, out of a laborious hotch-potch of hygienic
meals, baths, breathing-exercises, fresh-air and freehand drawing, we
can produce something splendid by accident; we can create what we
cannot conceive." The social reformers who were talking about
education seem not to have seen very clearly what they meant by the
word. They argued about whether it meant putting ideas into the child
or drawing ideas out of the child. In any case, as Chesterton pointed
out, you must choose which kind of ideas you are going to put in or
even which kind you are going to draw out. "There is indeed in each
living creature a collection of forces and functions; but education
means producing these in particular shapes and training them for
particular purposes, or it means nothing at all."

But to decide what they were trying to produce was altogether too
much for the men who were directing education in our Board Schools.
The Public Schools of England were often the target of Chesterton's
attacks; but they had, he declared, one immense superiority over the
Board Schools. The men who directed them knew exactly what they
wanted and were on the whole successful in producing it. Those
responsible for the Board Schools seemed to have no idea excepting
that of feebly imitating the Public Schools. One disadvantage of this
was that, at its worst and at its best, the Public School idea could
only be applicable to a small governing class. The other disadvantage
was that whereas in the Public Schools the masters were working with
the parents and trying to give the boys the same general shape as
their homes would give them, the Board Schools were doing nothing of
the kind. The schoolmaster of the poor never worked with the parents;
often he ignored them; sometimes he positively worked against them.
Such education was, Chesterton held, the very reverse of that which
would prevail in a true democracy. "We have had enough education for
the people; we want education by the people."

Chesterton felt keenly that while the faddists were perfectly
prepared to take the children out of the hands of any parents who
happened to be poor, they had not really the courage of their own
convictions. They would expatiate upon methods; they could not define
their aims; they would take refuge in such meaningless terms as
progress or efficiency or success. They were not prepared to say what
they wanted to succeed in producing, towards what goal they were
progressing or what was the test of efficiency. And part of this
inability arose from their curious fear of the past. Most movements
of reform have looked to the past for great part of their
inspiration. To reform means to shape anew, and he pointed out that
every revolution involves the idea of a return. On this point, G.K.
attacked two popular sayings. One was "You can't put the clock back";
but, he said, you can and you do constantly. The clock is a piece of
mechanism which can be adjusted by the human finger. "There is
another proverb: 'As you have made your bed, so you must lie on it';
which again is simply a lie. If I have made my bed uncomfortable,
please God, I will make it again."

It is easy to understand that this sort of philosophy should be out
of tune with the Socialist who looked with contempt on the wisdom of
his forefathers. It is less easy to understand why it was
unacceptable also to most of the Tories. One reviewer asked whether
Mr. Chesterton was the hoariest of Conservatives or the wildest of
Radicals. And with none of his books are the reviews so bewildered as
they are with this one. "The universe is ill-regulated," said the
_Liverpool Daily Post_, "according to the fancy of Mr. Chesterton;
but we are inclined to think that if the deity were to talk over
matters with him, he would soon come to see that a Chestertonian
cosmos would be no improvement on things as they are." On the other
hand, the _Toronto Globe_ remarks, "His boisterous optimism will not
admit that there is anything to sorrow over in this best of all
possible worlds." The _Observer_ suggested that Chesterton would find
no disciples because "his converts would never know from one week to
another what they had been converted to"; while the _Yorkshire Post_
felt that the chief disadvantage of the book was that "a shrewd
reader can pretty accurately anticipate Mr. Chesterton's point of
view on any subject whatsoever."

It seems almost incredible that so definite a line of thought, so
abundantly illustrated, should not have been clear to all his
readers. Some reviewers, one supposes, had not read the book; but
surely the _Daily Telegraph_ was deliberately refusing to face a
challenge when it wrote: "His whole book is an absurdity, but to be
absurd for three hundred pages on end is itself a work of genius."
That particular reviewer was shirking a serious issue. He was the
official Tory. But those whom I might call the unofficial Tories,
such men for instance as my own father, received much of this book
with delight and yet declined to take Chesterton's sociology
seriously. And I think it is worth trying to see why this was the

In a letter to the _Clarion_, G.K. outlines his own position: "If you
want praise or blame for Socialists I have enormous quantities of
both. Roughly speaking (1) I praise them to infinity because they
want to smash modern society. (2) I blame them to infinity because of
what they want to put in its place. As the smashing must, I suppose,
come first, my practical sympathies are mainly with them."*

[* Letter to the _Clarion_, February 8, 1910.]

Such a confession of faith seemed shocking to the honest
old-fashioned Tory. And because it shocked him, he made the mistake
of calling it irresponsible. Chesterton frequently urged revolution
as the only possible means of changing an intolerable state of
things. But the word "revolution" suggested streets running with
blood. And, on the other hand, they had not the very faintest
conception of how intolerable the state of things was against which
Chesterton proposed to revolt. I think it must be said too that he
was a little hazy as to the exact nature of the revolution he
proposed. He certainly hoped to avoid the guillotine! And even when
urging the restoration of the common lands to the people of England,
he appended a note in which he talked of a land purchase scheme
similar to that which George Wyndham had introduced in Ireland. But
besides this tinge of vagueness in what he proposed, there was
another weakness in his presentment of his sociology which I think
was his chief weakness as a writer.

It would be hard to find anyone who got so much out of words,
proverbs, popular sayings. He wrung every ounce of meaning out of
them; he stood them on their heads; he turned them inside out. And
everything he said he illustrated with an extraordinary wealth of
fancy; but when you come to illustration by way of concrete facts
there is a curious change. In his sociology, he did the same thing
that his best critics blamed in his literary biographies. He would
take some one fact and appear to build upon it an enormous
superstructure and then, very often, it would turn out that the fact
itself was inaccurately set down; and the average reader, discovering
the inaccuracy, felt that the entire superstructure was on a rotten
foundation and had fallen with it to the ground. Yet the ordinary
reader was wrong. The "fact" had not been the foundation of his
thought, but only the thing that had started him thinking. If the
"fact" had not been there at all, his thinking would have been
neither more nor less valid. But most readers could not see the

It is a little difficult to make the point clear; but anyone who has
read the _Browning_ and the _Dickens_ and then read the reviews of
them will recognise what I mean. It was universally acknowledged that
Chesterton might commit a hundred inaccuracies and yet get at the
heart of his subject in a way that the most painstaking biographer
and critic could not emulate. The more deeply one reads Dickens or
Browning, the more even one studies their lives, the more one is
confirmed as to the profound truth of the Chesterton estimate and the
genius of his insight. A superficial glance sees only the errors; a
deeper gaze discovers the truth. It is exactly the same with his
sociology. But here we are in a field where there is far more
prejudice. When Chesterton talked of State interference and used
again and again the same illustration--that of children whose hair
was forcibly cut short in a Board School--two questions were asked by
Socialists: Was this a solitary incident? Was it accurately reported?
When a pained doctor wrote to the papers saying the incident had been
merely one of a request to parents who had gladly complied for fear
their children should catch things from other and dirtier children,
it appeared as though G.K. had built far too much on this one point.
It was not the case. He was not building on the incident, he was
illustrating by the incident. But it must be admitted that he was
incredibly careless in investigating such incidents; and quite
indifferent as to his own accuracy. And this was foolish, for he
could have found in Police Court records, in the pages of _John Bull_
and later of the _Eye Witness_ itself, abundance of well verified
illustrations of his thesis.

In the same way, when he talked of the robbery of the people of
England by the great landlords, he did not take the slightest trouble
to prove his case to the many who knew nothing of the matter. It must
be remembered that the sociological side of English history was only
just beginning to be explored to any serious extent. In the _Village
Labourer_, Mr. and Mrs. Hammond point out to what an extent they had
had to depend on the Home Office papers and contemporary documents
for the mass of facts which this book and the _Town Labourer_ brought
for the first time to the knowledge of the general public. Chesterton
had worked with Hammond on the _Speaker_ for some years. Just as with
his book about Shaw so too with the background of his sociology he
could have gone round the corner and got the required information. He
knew the thing in general terms; he would not be bothered to make
that knowledge convincing to his readers. If to his genius for
expounding ideas had been added an awareness of the necessity of
marshalling and presenting facts, he must surely have convinced all
men of goodwill.

For in this matter the facts were there to marshal. It was less than
a hundred years since the last struggle of the English yeomen against
a wholesale robbery and confiscation that catastrophically altered
the whole shape of our country. And it seems to have left no trace in
the memory of the English poor. In _Northanger Abbey_, Jane Austen
describes Catherine Morland finding the traces of an imaginary crime.
But Chesterton comments that the crime she failed to discover was the
very real one that the owner of Northanger Abbey was not an Abbot.
The ordinary Englishman, however, thinks little of a crime that
consisted in robbing "a lot of lazy monks." That they had possessed
so much of the land of England merely seemed to make the act a more
desirable one: yet it was a confiscation, not so much of monks' land
as of the people's land administered by the monasteries.

What is even less realised is how much of the structure of the
mediaeval village remained after the Reformation and how widespread
was small ownership nearly to the end of the eighteenth century, when
Enclosures began estimated by the Hammonds at five million acres.
This land ceased in effect to be the common property of the poor and
became the private property of the rich. This business of the
Enclosures must be treated at some little length because it had the
same key position in Chesterton's sociological thinking as the
Marconi Case (shortly to be discussed) had in his political.

In every village of England had been small freeholders, copyholders
and cottagers, all of whom had varying degrees of possession in the
common lands which were administered by a manorial court of the
village. These common lands were not mere stretches of heath and
gorse but consisted partly of arable cultivated in strips with strict
rules of rotation, partly of grazing land and partly of wood and
heath. Most people in the village had a right to a strip of arable,
to cut firing of brushwood and turf, and rushes for thatch, and to
pasture one or more cows, their pigs and their geese. A village
cowherd looked after all the animals and brought them back at night.
Cobbett in his _Cottage Economy_ (to a new edition of which
Chesterton wrote a preface) reckoned that a cottager with a
quarter-acre of garden could well keep a cow on his own cabbages plus
commonland grazing, could fatten his own pig and have to buy very
little food for his family except grain and hops for home-baking and
brewing. He puts a cottager's earnings, working part-time for a
farmer, at about 10 sh. a week. This figure would vary, but the
possession of property in stock and common rights would tide over bad
times. A man with fire and food could be quasi-independent; and
indeed some of the larger farmers, witnessing before Enclosure
Enquiry Committees, complained of this very spirit of independence as
producing idleness and "sauciness."

The case for the Enclosures was that improved agricultural methods
could not be used in the open fields: more food was grown for
increasing town populations: much waste land ploughed: livestock
immeasurably improved. Only later was the cost counted when cheap
imported food for these same towns had slain English agriculture. The
"compensation" in small plots or sums of money could not for the
smaller commoners replace what they had lost--even when they
succeeded in getting it. Claims had to be made in writing--and few
cottagers could write. How difficult too to reduce to its money value
a claim for cutting turf or pasturing pigs and geese. A commissioner,
who had administered twenty Enclosure Acts, lamented to Arthur Young
that he had been the means of ruining two thousand poor people. But
the gulf was so great between rich and poor that all that the commons
had meant to the poor was not glimpsed by the rich. Arthur Young had
thought the benefits of common "perfectly contemptible," but by 1801
he was deeply repentant and trying in vain to arrest the movement he
had helped to start.

Before enclosure, the English cottager had had milk, butter and
cheese in plenty, home-grown pork and bacon, home-brewed beer and
home-baked bread, his own vegetables (although Cobbett scorned green
rubbish for human food and advised it to be fed to cattle only), his
own eggs and poultry. After enclosure, he could get no milk, for the
farmers would not sell it; no meat, for his wages could not buy it;
and he no longer had a pig to provide the fat bacon commended by
Cobbett. Working long hours he lived on bread, potatoes and tea, and
insufficient even of these. Lord Winchelsea, one of the very few
landowners who resisted the trend of the time, mentioned in the House
of Lords the discovery of four labourers, starved to death under a
hedge, and said this was a typical occurrence.

At the beginning of the Enclosure period the Industrial Revolution
was barely in its infancy. A large part of the spinning, weaving and
other manufactures was carried on in the cottages of men who had
gardens they could dig in and cows and pigs of their own. The
invention of power machines, the discovery of coal wherewith those
machines could be worked, led to the concentration of factories in
the huge cities. But it was the drift from the villages of
dispossessed men, together with the cheap child labour provided by
Poor Law Guardians, that made possible the starvation wages and the
tyranny of the factory system. And here the tyrants were largely of a
different class. There were some landowners who also had factories,
and more who possessed coal-mines, but many of the manufacturers had
themselves come from the class of the dispossessed.

Successful manufacturers made money--a great deal of money. Many of
the men's appeals gave the figures at which the goods were sold in
contrast with their rate of wages, and the contrast is startling. So,
as the towns grew, the masters left the smoke they were creating and
bought country places and became country gentlemen, preserved their
own game and judged their own tenants. And thus disappeared yet
another section of the ancient country folk. For the large landowners
would seldom sell and the land bought by the new men was mostly the
land of small farmers and yeomen. This was the age of new country
houses with a hundred rooms and vast offices that housed an army of
servants. "Labour was cheap," the descendants of those who built just
then will tell you, as they gaze disconsolate at their unwieldy
heritage. Old and new families alike built or rebuilt, added and

Cobbett rode rurally and angrily through the ruins of a better
England (described a century earlier by another horseman, Daniel
Defoe). Goldsmith mourned an early example in his "Deserted Village,"
but they are the only voices in an abundant literature. Jane Austen
is, indeed, the perfect example of what Chesterton always
realised--the ignorance that was almost innocence with which the
wealthy had done their work of destruction. He did not account them
as evil as they would seem by a mere summary of events. And what he
saw at the root of those events was in his eyes still present:
England was still possessed and still governed by a minority. The
Conservatives were "a minority that was rich," the liberals "a
minority that was mad." And those two minorities tended to join
together and rob and oppress the ordinary man, in the name of some
theory of progress and perfection.

Thus the Protestant Reformation had closed the monasteries, which
were the poor man's inns, in the name of a purer religion; the
economists had taken away his land and driven him into the factories
with a promise of future wealth and prosperity. These had been the
experts of their day. Now the new experts were telling him with equal
eagerness that hygienic flats and communal kitchens would bring about
for him the new Jerusalem. But never did the expert think of asking
Jones, the ordinary man, what he himself wanted. Jones just wanted
the "divinely ordinary things"--a house of his own and a family life.
And that was still denied him as is related in the chapter called
"The Homelessness of Jones."

In a debate in the Oxford Union, G.K. maintained that the House of
Lords was a menace to the State, because it failed precisely in what
was supposed to be its main function, that of conservation. It had
not saved, it had destroyed the Church lands and the common lands; it
was ready to pass any Bill that affected only the lower classes. "We
are all Socialists now," Sir William Harcourt had lately said, and
Chesterton saw that Socialism would mean merely further restriction
of liberty and continued coercion of the poor by the experts and the
rich. So, looking at the past, Chesterton desired a restoration which
he often called a Revolution. There were two forms of government that
might succeed--a real Monarchy, in which one ordinary man governed
many ordinary men--or a real democracy, in which many ordinary men
governed themselves. Aristocracy may have begun well in England when
it was an army protecting England: when the Duke was a Dux. Now it
was merely plutocracy and it had become "an army without an enemy
billeted on the people."

All this and more formed the background of Chesterton's mind. But
what he wrote was a comment on the scene, not a picture of it. He
wrote of the terrible irony whereby "the Commons were enclosing the
commons." He spoke of the English revolution of the eighteenth
century, "a revolution of the rich against the poor." He mourned with
Goldsmith the destruction of England's peasantry. He cried aloud like
Cobbett, for he too had discovered the murder of England his mother.
But his cry was unintelligible and his hopes of a resurrection
unmeaning to those who knew not what had been done to death.


The Eye Witness

THE PUBLICATION OF _What's Wrong With the World_ brings us to 1910.
Gilbert had, as we have seen, originally intended to call the book
_What's Wrong?_ laying some emphasis on the note of interrogation. It
amused him to perplex the casual visitor by going off to his study
with the muttered remark: "I must get on with What's Wrong." The
change of name and the omission of the note of interrogation (both
changes the act of his publishers) represented a certain loss, for
indeed Gilbert was still asking himself what was wrong when he was
writing this book, although he was very certain what was right--his
ideals were really a clear picture of health. His doubts about the
achievement of those ideals in the present world and with his present
political allegiance were, as he suggests in the _Autobiography_,
vague but becoming more definite.

Did this mean that he ever looked hopefully towards the other big
division of the English political scene--the Tory or Conservative
party to which his brother had once declared he belonged without
knowing it? That would be a simpler story than what really happened
in his mind--and I confess that I am myself sufficiently vague and
doubtful about part of what the Chesterbelloc believed they were
discovering, to find it a little difficult to describe it clearly.
Cecil Chesterton and Belloc set down their views in a book called
_The Party System_. Gilbert made his clear in letters to the Liberal

The English party system had often enough been attacked for its
obvious defects and indeed the _New Witness's_ even livelier
contemporary _John Bull_ was shouting for its abolition. But Belloc
and Cecil Chesterton had their own line. Their general thesis was
that not only did the people of England not govern, Parliament did
not govern either. The Cabinet governed and it was chosen by the real
rulers of the party. For each party was run by an oligarchy, and run
roughly on the same lines. Lists were given of families whose
brothers-in-law and cousins (though not yet their sisters and their
aunts) found place in the Ministry of one or other political party.
Moreover, the governing families on both sides were in many cases
connected by birth or marriage and all belonged to the same social
set. But money too was useful: men could buy their way in. Each party
had a fund, and those who could contribute largely had of necessity
an influence on party policy. The existent Liberal Government had
brought to a totally new peak the art of swelling its fund by the
sale of titles: which in many instances meant the sale of hereditary
governing powers, since those higher titles which carry with them a
seat in the House of Lords were sold like the others, at a higher
rate naturally. For the rank and file member, a political career no
longer meant the chance for talents and courage to win recognition in
an open field. A man who believed that his first duty was to
represent his constituents stood no chance of advancement. Certainly
a private member could not introduce a bill as his own and get it
debated on its merits.

None of this was new, though the book did it rather exceptionally
well. What was new was the theory that the two party oligarchies were
secretly one, that the fights between the parties were little more
than sham fights. The ordinary party member was unaware of this
secret conspiracy between the leaders and would obey the call of the
party Whip and accept a sort of military discipline with the genuine
belief that the defeat of his party would mean disaster to his

Belloc had discovered for himself the impotence of the private
member. He had, as we have seen, been elected to Parliament by South
Salford in 1906 as a Liberal. In Parliament he proposed a measure for
the publication of the names of subscribers to the Party Funds.
Naturally enough the proposal got nowhere. Also naturally enough the
Party Funds were not forthcoming to support him at the next election.
He fought and won the seat as an Independent. At the second election
of 1910 he declined to stand, having lucidly explained to the House
of Commons in a final speech that a seat there was of no value under
the existing system.

Thus Belloc's own experience, and a thousand other things, went to
prove the stranglehold the rulers of the party had on the party. But
did it prove, or did the book establish, the theory of a
behind-scenes conspiracy between the small groups who controlled each
of the great historical parties, which was the theme not only of _The
Party System_ but also of Belloc's brilliant political novels--
notably _Mr. Clutterbuck's Election_ and _Pongo and the Bull?_

Of the stranglehold there was no doubt and Gilbert soon found it too
much for his own allegiance to the Liberal Party or any other. At the
election of 1910, he addressed a Liberal meeting at Beaconsfield and
dealt vigorously with constant Tory questions and interjections from
the back of the hall. He obviously enjoyed the fight and a little
later he spoke for the "League of Young Liberals" and was
photographed standing at the back of their van. But although he went
to London to vote for John Burns in Battersea and would probably have
continued to vote Liberal or Labour, he showed at a Women's Suffrage
meeting in 1911 a growing scepticism about the value of the vote. He
was reported as saying, "If I voted for John Burns now, I should not
be voting for anything at all (laughter)."

It must have been irritating that this interpolation "laughter" was
liable to occur when Chesterton was most serious; he did not change
quickly but in the alteration of his outlook towards his party, his
growing doubt whether it stood for any real values, he was very
serious. In the years that followed the coming into power of
Liberalism there were a multitude of Acts described as of little
importance and passed into law after little or no discussion. At the
same time, private members complained that they could get no
attention for really urgent matters of social reform. The _Nation_,
as a party paper, defended the state of things and talked of official
business and of want of time. Their attitude was vigorously attacked
by Gilbert, whose first letter (Jan. 17, 1911) ended with this

   Who ever dreamed of getting "perfect freedom and fulness of
   discussion" except in heaven? The case urged against Cabinets is
   that we have no freedom and no discussion, except that laid down
   despotically by a few men on front benches. Your assurance that
   Parliament is very busy is utterly vain. It is busy on things the
   dictators direct. That small men and small questions get squeezed out
   among big ones, that is a normal disaster. With us, on the contrary,
   it is the big questions that get squeezed out. The Party was not
   allowed really to attack the South African War, for fear it should
   alienate Mr. Asquith. It was not allowed to object to Mr. Herbert
   Gladstone (or is it Lord Gladstone? This blaze of democracy blinds
   one) when he sought to abolish the Habeas Corpus Act, and leave the
   poorer sort of pickpockets permanently at the caprice of their
   jailers. Parliament is busy on the aristocratic fads; and mankind
   must mark time with a million stamping feet, while Mr. Herbert Samuel
   searches a gutter-boy for cigarettes. That is what you call the
   congestion of Parliament.

The Editor of the _Nation_ was so rash as to append to this letter
the words, "We must be stupid for we have no idea what Mr. Chesterton
means." This was too good an opening to be lost. G.K. returned to the
charge and I feel that this correspondence is so important in various
ways that the next two letters should be given in full.


   In a note to my last week's letter you remark, "We must be stupid;
   but we have no idea what Mr. Chesterton means." As an old friend I
   can assure you that you are by no means stupid; some other
   explanation of this unnatural darkness must be found; and I find it
   in the effect of that official party phraseology which I attack, and
   which I am by no means alone in attacking. If I had talked about
   "true Imperialism," or "our loyalty to our gallant leader," you might
   have thought you knew what I meant; because I meant nothing. But I do
   mean something; and I do want you to understand what I mean. I will,
   therefore, state it with total dullness, in separate paragraphs; and
   I will number them.

   (1) I say a democracy means a State where the citizens first desire
   something and then get it. That is surely simple.

   (2) I say that where this is deflected by the disadvantage of
   representation, it means that the citizens desire a thing and tell
   the representatives to get it. I trust I make myself clear.

   (3) The representatives, in order to get it at all, must have some
   control over detail; but the design must come from popular desire.
   Have we got that down?

   (4) You, I understand, hold that English M. P.s today do thus obey
   the public in design, varying only in detail. That is a quite clear

   (5) I say they don't. Tell me if I am getting too abstruse.

   (6) I say our representatives accept designs and desires almost
   entirely from the Cabinet class above them; and practically not at
   all from the constituents below them. I say the people does not wield
   a Parliament which wields a Cabinet. I say the Cabinet bullies a
   timid Parliament which bullies a bewildered people. Is that plain?

   (7) If you ask why the people endure and play this game, I say they
   play it as they would play the official games of any despotism or
   aristocracy. The average Englishman puts his cross on a ballot-paper
   as he takes off his hat to the King--and would take it off if there
   were no ballot-papers. There is no democracy in the business. Is that

   (8) If you ask why we have thus lost democracy, I say from two
   causes; (a) The omnipotence of an unelected body, the Cabinet; (b)
   the party system, which turns all politics into a game like the Boat
   Race. Is that all right?

   (9) If you want examples I could give you scores. I say the people
   did not cry out that all children whose parents lunch on cheese and
   beer in an inn should be left out in the rain. I say the people did
   not demand that a man's sentence should be settled by his jailers
   instead of by his judges. I say these things came from a rich group,
   not only without any evidence, but really without any pretence, that
   they were popular. I say the people hardly heard of them at the
   polls. But here I do not need to give examples, but merely to say
   what I mean. Surely I have said it now.



   January 26th, 1911.

   _Editor's Note_.

   Mr. Chesterton is precise enough now, but he is precisely wrong.
   There are grains of truth in his premises, a bushel of exaggeration
   in his conclusions. We have not "lost democracy"; the two instances
   which he alleges, both of which we dislike, are too small to prove so
   large a case.

To this G. K. replied:


   I want to thank you for printing my letters, and especially for
   your last important comment, in which you say that the Crimes and
   Children's Acts were bad, but are "too small" to support a charge of
   undemocracy. And I want to ask you one last question, which is the

   Why do you think of these things as small? They are really
   enormous. One alters the daily habits of millions of people; the
   other destroys the public law of thousands of years. What can be more
   fundamental than food, drink, and children? What can be more
   catastrophic than putting us back in the primal anarchy, in which a
   man was flung into a dungeon and left there "till he listened to
   reason?" There has been no such overturn in European ethics since
   Constantine proclaimed the cross.

   Why do you think of these things as small? I will tell you.
   Unconsciously, no doubt, but simply and solely because the Front
   Benches did not announce them as big. They were not "first-class
   measures"; they were not "full-dress debates." The governing class
   got them through in the quick, quiet, secondary way in which they
   pass things that the people positively detests; not in the pompous,
   lengthy, oratorical way in which they present measures that the
   people merely bets on, as it might on a new horse. A "first-class
   measure" means, for instance, tinkering for months at some tottery
   compromise about a Religious Education that doesn't exist. The reason
   is simple. "Sound Church Teaching" and "Dogmatic Christianity" both
   happen to be hobbies in the class from which Cabinets come. But going
   to public-houses and going to prison are both habits with which that
   class is, unfortunately, quite unfamiliar. It is ready, therefore, at
   a stroke of the pen, to bring all folly into the taverns and all
   injustice into the jails.



   February 2nd, 1911.

It was not only in the _Nation_ that such letters as these appeared.
"We can't write in every paper at once," runs a letter in the _New
Age_. "We do our best." ("We" meant Gilbert, Cecil and Hilaire
Belloc.) And G.K. goes on to answer four questions which have been
put by a correspondent signing himself, "Political Journalist."

   First, in whose eyes but ours has the Party System lost credit? I
   say in nearly everybody's. If this were a free country, I could
   mention offhand a score of men within a stone's throw; an innkeeper,
   a doctor, a shopkeeper, a lawyer, a civil servant. As it is, I may
   put it this way. In a large debating society I proposed to attack the
   Party System, and for a long time I could not get an opposer. At
   last, I got one. He defended the Party System on the ground that
   people must be bamboozled more or less.

   Second, he asks if the Party System does not govern the country to
   the content of most citizens. I answer that Englishmen are happy
   under the Party System solely and exactly as Romans were happy under
   Nero. That is, not because government was good, but because Life is
   good, even without good government. Nero's slaves enjoyed Italy, not
   Nero. Modern Englishmen enjoy England but certainly not the British
   Constitution. The legislation is detested, wherever it is even felt.
   The other day a Cambridge don complained that, when out bicycling
   with his boys, he had to leave them in the rain while he drank a
   glass of cider. Count the whole series of human souls between a
   costermonger and a Cambridge don, and you will see a nation in mutiny.

   Third, "What substitute, etc., etc." Here again, the answer is
   simple and indeed traditional. I suggest we should do what was always
   suggested in the riddles and revolutions of the recent centuries. In
   the seventeenth century phrase, I suggest that we should "call a free

   Fourth, "Is Democracy compatible with Parliamentary Government?"
   God forbid. Is God compatible with Church Government? Why should He
   be? It is the other things that have to be compatible with God. A
   church can only be a humble effort to utter God. A Parliament can
   only be a humble effort to express Man. But for all that, there is a
   deal of commonsense left in the world, and people do know when
   priests or politicians are honestly trying to express a mystery--and
   when they are only taking advantage of an ambiguity.


Encouraged by the excitement that had attended the publication of
_The Party System_ its authors decided to attempt a newspaper of
their own. This paper is still in existence but it has in the course
of its history appeared under four different titles. To avoid later
confusion I had better set these down at the outset.

The Eye Witness, June 1911-October 1912
The New Witness, November 1912-May 1923
G. K.'s Weekly, 1925-1936
The Weekly Review, 1936 till today

During the first year of its existence the _Eye Witness_ was edited
by Belloc. Cecil Chesterton took over the editorship after a short
interregnum during which he was assistant editor. Charles Granville
had financed it. When he went bankrupt the title was altered to _The
New Witness_. When Cecil joined the Army in 1916, G.K. became Editor.
In 1923 the paper died, but two years later rose again under the
title, _G.K.'s Weekly_. After Gilbert's own death Belloc took it back.
Today, as _The Weekly Review_, it is edited by Reginald Jebb, Belloc's
son-in-law. With all these changes of name, the continuity of the
paper is unmistakable. Its main aim may be roughly defined under two
headings. 1. To fight for the liberty of Englishmen against
increasing enslavement to a Plutocracy. 2. To expose and combat
corruption in public life.

The fight for Liberty appears in the letters quoted above in the form
of an attack on certain bills: Belloc unified and defined it with
real genius in the articles which became two of his most important
books: _The Servile State_ and _The Restoration of Property_. If
these two books be set beside Chesterton's _What's Wrong With the
World_ and _The Outline of Sanity_ the Chesterbelloc sociology stands

In his _Cobbett_, G.K. was later to emphasise the genius with which
Cobbett saw the England of today a hundred years before it was there
to be seen. Belloc in the same way saw both what was coming and the
way in which it was coming. Especially far-sighted was his attitude
to Lloyd George's Compulsory Health Insurance Act. It was the first
act of the kind in England and the scheme in outline was: every week
every employed person must have a stamp stuck on a card by his
employer, of which he paid slightly less and the employer slightly
more than half the cost. The money thus saved gave the insured person
free medical treatment and a certain weekly sum during the period of
illness. Agricultural labourers were omitted from the act and a
ferment raged on the question of domestic servants, who were
eventually included in its operation. It was practically acknowledged
that this was done to make the Act more workable financially. For
domestic servants were an especially healthy class and, moreover, in
most upper and middle-class households they were already attended by
the family doctor without cost to themselves.

The company in which the _Eye Witness_ found itself in opposing this
Act was indeed a case of "strange bedfellows." For the opposition was
led by the Conservatives (on the ground that the Act was Socialism).
Many a mistress and many a maid did I hear in those days in good
Conservative homes declaring they would rather go to prison than
"lick Lloyd George's stamps." Most Liberals, on the other hand,
regarded the Act as an example of enlightened legislation for the
benefit of the poor. The _Eye Witness_ saw in it the arrival of the
Servile State. Their main objections cut deep. As with compulsory
education, but in much more far-reaching fashion, this Act took away
the liberty and the personal responsibilities of the poor--and in
doing so put them into a category--forever ticketed and labelled,
separated from the other part of the nation. As people for whom
everything had to be done, they were increasingly at the mercy of
their employers, of Government Inspectors, of philanthropic
societies, increasingly slaves.

What was meant by the Servile State? It was, said Belloc, an
"arrangement of society in which so considerable a number of the
families and individuals are constrained by positive law to labour
for the advantage of other families and individuals as to stamp the
whole community with the mark of such labour." It was, quite simply,
the return of slavery as the condition of the poor: and the
Chesterbelloc did not think, then or ever, that any increase of
comfort or security was a sufficient good to be bought at the price
of liberty.

In a section of the paper called "Lex versus the Poor" the editor
made a point of collecting instances of oppression. A series of
articles attacked the Mentally Deficient Bill whereby poor parents
could have their children taken from them--those children who most
needed them and whom they often loved and clung to above the others,
and a Jewish contributor to the paper, Dr. Eder, pointed out in
admirable letters how divided was the medical profession itself on
what constituted mental deficiency and whether family life was not
far more likely to develop the mind than segregation with other
deficients in an Institution.

To the official harriers of the poor were added further inspectors
sent by such societies as the National Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Children. Cruelty to children, as Gilbert often pointed
out, is a horrible thing, but very seldom proved of parents against
their own children. The word was stretched to cover anything that
these inspectors called neglect. Lately we have read of a case, and
many like it were reported in the _New Witness_, where failure to
wash children adequately was called cruelty. And what was the remedy?
To take away the father, the breadwinner, to prison. For insufficient
food and clothes to substitute destitution, for insufficient care to
remove the only one the children had to care for them at all: always
to break up the family.

Worst of all was the question of school attendance: While a child of
three was dying of starvation, the mother was at the Police Court
where she was fined for not sending an older child to school. As she
could not pay the fine her husband was sent to prison for a week. A
child died of consumption. The parents said at the inquest they had
not dared to keep her at home when she got sick, for fear of the
school inspector.

As he had in _What's Wrong With the World_ been fired by the thought
of the landless poor of England, so now these stories stirred Gilbert
deeply. He saw the philanthropists like the Pharisees, unheeding the
wisdom learned by the Wise Men at Bethlehem: saw them with their busy
pencils peering at the Mother's omissions while the vast crimes of
the State went unchallenged. He wrote a poem called "The Neglected
Child" and "dedicated in a glow of Christian Charity to a
philanthropic Society."

   The Teachers in the temple
   They did not lift their eyes
   For the blazing star on Bethlehem
   Or the Wise Men grown wise.

   They heeded jot and tittle,
   They heeded not a jot
   The rending voice in Ramah
   And the children that were not.

   Or how the panic of the poor
   Choked all the fields with flight,
   Or how the red sword of the rich
   Ran ravening through the night.

   They made their notes; while naked
   And monstrous and obscene
   A tyrant bathed in all the blood
   Of men that might have been.

   But they did chide Our Lady
   And tax her for this thing,
   That she had lost Him for a time
   And sought Him sorrowing.

To most of the _Eye Witness_ group the fight for freedom was so bound
up with the fight against corruption that all was but one fight. I
think that when they looked back they were too much inclined to see
the shadow of Lloyd George behind them as well as around them: that
in fact the Liberal Party of those years had brought with it a new
descent in political decency--a descent which would have startled
both Gladstone and the more cynical Disraeli. Of this more when we
come to Marconi. Meanwhile there was certainly a whole lot to fight
about and the group responsible for the _Witness_, not content with
the pen, formed a Society entitled "The League for Clean Government,"
with Mr. John Scurr as Secretary. This League specialised in
promoting the candidature of independent Members of Parliament for
such vacancies as occurred between general elections, and in
attacking Party "place men." Doubtless other elements were present at
some of these by-elections but the League boasted its success on
several occasions, notably in the three defeats sustained by C. F. G.

Charles Masterman had been with Gilbert and Cecil Chesterton a member
of the group of young Christian Socialists that drew its inspiration
in great part from Canon Scott Holland. He had gone further than most
of them in his practical sympathy and understanding for the
destitute. With a friend he had taken a workman's flat in the slums
and he had written a somewhat florid but very moving book recording
conditions experienced as well as observed. He was one of the Young
Liberals who entered Parliament full of ardour to fight the battles
of the poor. The sequel as they saw it may best be told by Belloc and
Cecil Chesterton themselves. In _The Party System_ they wrote:

   . . . Mr. Masterman entered Parliament as a Liberal of independent
   views. During his first two years in the House he distinguished
   himself as a critic of the Liberal Ministry. He criticised their
   Education Bill. He criticised with especial force the policy of Mr.
   John Burns at the Local Government Board. His conduct attracted the
   notice of the leaders of the party. He was offered office, accepted
   it, and since then has been silent, except for an occasional
   rhetorical exercise in defence of the Government. One fact will be
   sufficient to emphasise the change. On March 13th, 1908, Mr.
   Masterman voted for the Right to Work Bill of the Labour Party. In
   May of the same year he accepted a place with a salary of £1200 a
   year--it has since risen to £1500. On April 20th, 1909, he voted, at
   the bidding of the Party Whips, against the same Bill which he had
   voted for in the previous year. Yet this remarkable example of the
   "peril of change"* does not apparently create any indignation or even
   astonishment in the political world which Mr. Masterman adorns. On
   the contrary, he seems to be generally regarded as a politician of
   exceptionally high ideals. No better instance need be recorded of the
   peculiar atmosphere it is the business of these pages to describe.

[* The title of one of Masterman's books was _In Peril of Change_.]

At the succeeding General Election, Masterman was not re-elected. And
he failed again in a couple of by-elections. In all these elections,
the League for Clean Government campaigned fiercely against him.
There was certainly in the feeling of Belloc and Cecil Chesterton
towards Masterman a great deal of the bitterness that moved Browning
to write, "Just for a handful of silver he left us," and I do not
think there is anything in the history of the paper that created so
strong a feeling against it in certain minds. There seemed something
peculiarly ungenerous in the continued attacks after a series of
defeats, in the insistence with which Masterman's name was dragged
in, always accompanied by sneers. Replying to a remonstrance to this
effect, Cecil Chesterton, then Editor of the _New Witness_, stated
that in his considered opinion it was a duty to make a successful
career impossible to any man convicted of selling his principles for

I dwell on this matter of Masterman for two reasons. The first is
that it was one of the rare occasions on which Gilbert Chesterton
disagreed with his brother and Belloc. Gilbert was a very faithful
friend: it would be hard to find a broken friendship in his life. He
had moreover much of the power that aroused his enthusiasm in
Browning of going into the depths of a character and discovering the
virtue concealed there. And as with Browning his explanation took
account of elements that really existed but could find no place in a
more narrowly adverse view.

"Many of my own best friends," he wrote of Masterman, "entirely
misunderstood and underrated him. It is true that as he rose higher
in politics, the veil of the politician began to descend a little on
him also; but he became a politician from the noblest bitterness on
behalf of the poor; and what was blamed in him was the fault of much
more ignoble men. . . . But he was also an organiser and liked
governing; only his pessimism made him think that government had
always been bad, and was now no worse than usual. Therefore, to men
on fire for reform, he came to seem an obstacle and an official
apologist." After G.K. became Editor of the _New Witness_ the attacks
on Masterman ceased, but he did not differ from the two earlier
Editors in his views on the ethics of political action or the
principles of social reform.

The second reason for which the Masterman matter must be dwelt on is
because it affords the best illustration of one curious fact in
connection with the _Eye_ and _New Witness_ campaign. When the _Life
of Masterman_ recently appeared I seized it eagerly that I might read
an authoritative defence of his position. I searched the Index under
_Eye Witness, New Witness, Cecil Chesterton_ and _League for Clean
Government_. No one of them was mentioned. At last I discovered under
_Belloc_ and _Scurr_ a faint allusion to their activities at a
by-election in which Belloc was coupled with the Protestant Alliance
leader Kensit as part of a contemptible opposition, and the unnamed
League for Clean Government described as "those working with Mr.
Scurr"! Clearly where it is possible to use against something
powerful the weapon of ignoring it as though it were something
obscure, that weapon is itself a powerful one. Against the _New
Witness_ it was used perpetually.

A paper which included among its contributors Hilaire Belloc, G. K.
Chesterton, J. S. Phillimore, E. C. Bentley, Wells, Shaw, Katharine
Tynan, Desmond McCarthy, F. Y. Eccles, G. S. Street--to name only
those who come first to mind--obviously stood high. Cecil
Chesterton's own editorials, Hugh O'Donnell's picturesque series
_Twenty Years After_, the high level of the reviewing and (oddly
enough, considering the paper's outlook) the financial articles of
Raymond Radclyffe, were all outstanding. The sales (at sixpence) were
never enormous but the readers were on a high cultural level. The
correspondence pages are always interesting.

The _Eye Witness_ group, besides courage, had high spirits and they
had wit. "Capulet's" rhymes; the series of ballades written by
Baring, Bentley, Phillimore, Belloc and G.K.C.; "Mrs. Markham's
History" written by Belloc; there was little of this quality in the
other weeklies. Side by side with the serious attacks was a line of
satire and of sheer fooling. The silver deal in India was being
attacked in the editorials, while Mrs. Markham explained to Tommy how
good, kind Lord Swaythling, really a Samuel, had lent money to his
brother Mr. Montague (another Samuel) for the benefit of the poor
people of India. The next week Tommy and Rachel grew enthusiastic
about the kindness of Lord Swaythling in _borrowing_ money that
the Indian Government could not use. Mrs. Markham too made Rachel
take a pencil and write out a list of Samuels including the
Postmaster-General, now so busy over the Marconi Case. The next
lesson was about titles. Then came one about policemen, and finally
about company promoters and investments. How a promoter guesses there
is oil somewhere, how money is lent to dig for it ("But, Mamma! How
can money dig?"), how the Company promoter may find no oil, how if
they think he has cheated them the rich men who lent their money can
have him tried by twelve good men and true--(_Tommy:_ "How do they
know the men are good and true, Mamma?" _Mrs. M.:_ "They do this by
taking them in alphabetical order out of a list.").

Perhaps the combination of irony thinly veiling intensity of purpose,
with humour sometimes degenerating into wild fooling, damned them in
the eyes of many. But there was a more serious obstacle to the real
effectiveness they might otherwise have had. When it was unavoidable
to name the _New Witness_ its opponents referred to it as though to a
"rag." Why was this possible? Principally I think because of the
violence of its language. Most Parliamentary matters to which it made
reference were spoken of as instances of "foul" corruption or "dirty"
business. Transactions by Ministers were said to "stink," while the
Ministers themselves were described as carrying off or distributing
"swag" and "boodle." In Vol. II of the _Eye Witness_, for instance, we
find the "game of boodle," "dirty trick," "Keep your eye on the
Railway Bill: you are going to be fleeced," and "stunt" and "ramp"
_passim_. Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Rufus Isaacs are always called
"George" and "Isaacs." The General of the Salvation Army is
invariably "Old Booth," while in the headlines the word "Scandal"
constantly recurs. Even admirers were at times like Fox's followers

   Groaned "What a passion he was in tonight!
   Men in a passion must be in the wrong
   And heavens how dangerous when they're built so strong."
   Thus the great Whig amid immense applause
   Scared off his clients and bawled down his cause,
   Undid reform by lauding Revolution
   Till cobblers cried "God save the Constitution."



IN HIS _Autobiography_ Gilbert Chesterton has set down his belief
that the Marconi Scandal will be seen by historians as a landmark in
English history. To him personally the revelations produced by it
were a great shock and gave the death-blow to all that still lingered
of his belief in the Liberal Party. For the rest of his life it may
almost be called an obsession with him. In his eyes it was so great a
landmark that as others spoke of events as pre- or post-war, he
divided the political history of England into pre- and post-Marconi.
It meant as much for his political outlook as the Enclosures for his
social. It is necessary to know what happened in the Marconi Case if
we are to understand a most important element in Chesterton's mental

The difficulty is to know what did happen. The main lines of a very
complicated bit of history have never, so far as I know, been
disentangled by anyone whose only interest was to disentangle them:
and the partisans have naturally tangled them more. I wrote a draft
chapter after reading the two thousand page report of the
Parliamentary Committee, the six hundred page report of Cecil
Chesterton's Trial, and masses of contemporary journalism. Then, in
the circumstances I have related in the Introduction, I called in my
husband's aid. The rest of this chapter is mainly his.


The Imperial Conference of 1911 had approved the plan of a chain
of state-owned wireless stations to be erected throughout the
British Empire. The Post Office--Mr. Herbert Samuel being the
Postmaster-General--was instructed to put the matter in hand. After
consideration of competing systems, the Marconi was chosen. The
Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of London--of which Mr. Godfrey Isaacs
was Managing Director--was asked to tender for the work. Its tender
was accepted on March 7, 1912. The main terms of the tender were as

The Company was to erect stations in various parts of the Empire at a
cost to the Government of £60,000 per station; these were then to be
operated by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Dominions
and Colonies concerned; and the Marconi Company was to receive 10% of
the gross receipts. The Agreement was for 28 years, though the
Postmaster-General might terminate it at the end of eighteen years.
But there was one further clause (Clause 10) allowing for termination
_at any time_ if the Government should find it advantageous to use a
different system.

The acceptance of this tender was only the first stage. A contract
had to be drawn up, and nothing would be finalised till this contract
had been accepted by Parliament. In fact the contract was not
completed till July 19. On that day it was placed on the table of the
House of Commons.

For the understanding of the Marconi Case, the vital period is the
four months of 1912 between March 7, when the tender was accepted,
and July 19 when the contract was tabled. Let us concentrate upon
that four-month period. The Postmaster-General issued no statement
whatever on the matter but on March 8 the Company sent out a circular
to its shareholders telling them the good news--but making the news
look even better than it was by omitting all reference to Clause 10,
which entitled the Government to substitute some rival system at any
time it pleased. The Postmaster-General issued no correction because,
as he said later, he had not been aware of the omission.

Immediately after, Godfrey Isaacs left for America to consider the
affairs of the American Marconi Company, capitalised at $1,600,000,
of which he was a Director. More than half its shares were owned by
the English Company. On behalf of the English Company he bought up
the rights of the American Company's principal rival, and then sold
these rights (at a profit not stated but apparently very
considerable) to the American Company for $1,400,000. To handle all
this and allow for vast developments hoped for from this purchase and
from a very favourable agreement Godfrey Isaacs had negotiated with
Western Union, the American Company was to be re-organized as a
$10,000,000 Company--two million shares at $5 each. The American
Company--whose own repute in America was too low for any hope of
raising money on that scale from the American public--seems to have
agreed to the Godfrey Isaacs plan only on condition that the English
Company should guarantee the subscription; and Godfrey Isaacs made
himself personally responsible for placing 500,000 shares. (It should
be remembered that the pound was then worth just under five dollars:
a $5 share was worth £1.1.3, or £1 1/16 in English money.)

Godfrey Isaacs returned to England. On April 9 he lunched with his
brothers Harry and Rufus--Rufus being Attorney-General in the British
Government. He told them of the arrangements he had made--arrangements
which were not yet made known to the public--and of the new stock
about to be issued, and offered them 100,000 shares, out of the
500,000 for which he had made himself responsible, at the face value
of £1.1.3. Rufus refused--one reason for his refusal being that the
shares were not a good "buy," as the prospects of the Company did not
warrant so large a new issue of capital. Harry took 50,000.

We now come to the transactions which the public was later to lump
together rather crudely as "Ministers Gambling in Marconis."

A. On April 17--roughly a week after the luncheon--Rufus Isaacs
bought 10,000 of Harry's shares at £2. He made the point later that
buying from Godfrey would have been improper as Godfrey was director
of a company with which the Government was negotiating, but that it
was all right to buy from Harry who had bought from Godfrey. (Harry
having paid only £1.1.3 was willing to let Rufus have them for the
same price. But Rufus thought it only fair to pay the higher price.
This is all the more remarkable because only a week earlier he had
thought these same shares bad value at roughly half the price he was
now prepared to pay.) Of his 10,000 shares, Rufus immediately sold
1000 to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, and 1000
to the Master of Elibank, who was chief Whip of the Liberal Party
then in office. It is to be noted that no money passed at this time
in any of those transactions: Rufus did not pay Harry, Lloyd George
and Elibank did not pay Rufus.

Nor did the shares pass. Indeed the shares did not as yet exist, as
it was not till the next day, April 18, that the American Marconi
Company authorised the issue of the new capital. On the day after
that, April 19, the shares were put on the market at £3.5.0. That
same day they rose to £4. In the course of the day Rufus Isaacs sold
700 shares at an average price of £3.6.6, which on the face of it
looks like clearing £3000 more than he had paid for all his shares
and still having 3000 shares left. But he explained later that there
had been pooling arrangements between himself and his brother, and
himself and his two friends: so that the upshot of his day's
transactions was that he had sold 2856 of his own shares, and 357
each for Lloyd George and Elibank.* The triumvirate therefore still
had 6430 shares of which 1286 belonged to Lloyd George and Elibank.

[* Rufus' explanation boils down to this: he and Harry had arranged
that whatever either sold in the course of the day should be totalled
and divided in the proportion of their holdings. Rufus sold 7000
shares, Harry 10,850: a total of 17,850. Rufus had taken 1/5 of
Harry's 50,000 shares, so one-fifth of the shares sold were allotted
as his--i.e. 3570. Lloyd George and Elibank had each taken 1/10 of
Rufus', therefore each was considered to have sold 357.]

On April 20 these two sold a further 1000 of their 1286 shares at

B. On May 22 Lloyd George and Elibank bought 3000 more shares at
£2.5/32. As they were not due to deliver the shares previously sold
by them at £3.6.6 and £3.5/32 till June 20, this new purchase had
something of the look of a "bear" transaction.

C. In April and May the Master of Elibank bought 3000 shares for the
account of the Liberal Party, of whose funds he had charge.

These three transactions are all that the three politicians ever
admitted, and nothing more was ever proved against them. As we have
seen there was no documentary evidence of the principal transaction
(the one I have called A), except that Rufus sold 7000 shares on
April 19. In his acquiring of the shares, no broker was employed.
Rufus did not pay Harry for the shares until January 6, 1913, some
nine months later, when the enquiry was already on. There was no
evidence other than his own word that 10,000 was the number he had
agreed to take or £2 the price that he had agreed to pay, or that he
had bought from Harry and not from Godfrey, or that of the 7000
shares he had certainly sold at a huge profit on April 19 half were
sold for Harry. There was, indeed, no evidence that the shares were
not a gift.

Even on what they admitted, they had obviously acted improperly. The
contract with the English Marconi Company was not yet completed,
Parliament had not been informed of its terms, Parliament therefore
had yet to decide whether it would accept or reject it. Three members
of Parliament had committed two grave improprieties:

(1) They had purchased shares--directly or at one remove--from the
Managing Director of a Company seeking a contract from Parliament, in
circumstances that were practically equivalent to receiving a gift of
money from him. They received shares which the general public could
not have bought till two days later and then only at over 50% more
than the politicians paid.* (On this count, the fact that the shares
were American Marconis made no difference: the point is that they
were valuable shares sold to ministers at a special low price. This
need not have been bribery, but it is a fact that one way of bribing
a man is to buy something from him at more than it is worth, or sell
something to him at less than it is worth.)

[* H. T. Campbell of Bullett, Campbell & Grenfell, the English
Marconi Company's official brokers, gave evidence before the
Parliamentary Committee that it would have been impossible for the
general public to buy the shares before April 19. And as we have
seen, they opened on that day at £3.5.0.]

(2) They--and through the Chief Whip's action the whole Liberal
Party, though it did not know it--were financially interested in the
acceptance by Parliament of the contract. For though they had not
bought shares in the English Company (with which the contract was
being made) but with the American Company (which had no direct
interest in the contract), none the less it would have lowered the
value of the American shares if the British Parliament had rejected
the Marconi System and chosen some other in preference. I may say at
once that I feel no certainty that the transaction was a sinister
effort to bribe ministers. But had it been, exactly the right
ministers were chosen. They were the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who
has charge of the nation's purse; the Attorney-General, who advises
upon the legality of actions proposed; the Chief Whip, who takes the
Party forces into the voting lobby. It was this same Chief Whip, the
Master of Elibank, that had carried the sale of honours to a new
height in his devotion to the increase of his Party's funds.


On July 19, 1912, the contract was put on the table of the House of
Commons. In the ordinary course it would have come up for a vote some
time before the end of the Parliamentary Session. But criticism of
the contract was growing on the ground that it was too favourable to
the Marconi Company. And rumours were flying that members of the
Government had been gambling in Marconi shares (which, as we have
seen, they had, though not in English Marconis).

Even before the tabling of the contract, members of Parliament,
notably Major Archer-Shee, a Conservative, had been harrying Mr.
Herbert Samuel, the Postmaster-General. On July 20, and in weekly
articles following, it was attacked as a thoroughly bad contract by a
writer in the _Outlook_, Mr. W. R. Lawson. On August 1, a Labour
Member asked a question in the House about the rising price of
Marconis. The feeling that enquiry was needed was so strong that on
August 6, the last day but one of the session, the Prime Minister
(who knew something of his colleagues' purchase of Marconis but never
mentioned it) promised the House that the Marconi Agreement would not
be rushed through without full discussion. In spite of this Herbert
Samuel* and Elibank both tried hard to get the contract approved that
day or the next. When it was quite clear that Parliament would not
allow this, Herbert Samuel insisted on making a general statement on
the contract. He too knew of the Ministers' dealings in American
Marconis, but did not mention them. There was no debate or division.
The question of ratification or rejection was postponed till the
House should meet again in October.

[* The argument he put to Major Archer-Shee, M.P. was that the
stations were urgently needed for Imperial defence.]

On August 8, Cecil Chesterton's paper the _New Witness_ launched its
first attack on the whole deal (though without reference to
Ministerial gambling in Marconis) under the headline "The Marconi

   Isaacs' brother is Chairman of the Marconi Company. It has
   therefore been secretly arranged between Isaacs and Samuel that the
   British people shall give the Marconi Company a very large sum of
   money through the agency of the said Samuel, and for the benefit of
   the said Isaacs. Incidentally, the monopoly that is about to be
   granted to Isaacs No. 2, through the ardent charity of Isaacs No. 1
   and his colleague the Postmaster-General, is a monopoly involving
   antiquated methods, the refusal of competing tenders far cheaper and
   far more efficient, and the saddling of this country with corruptly
   purchased goods, which happen to be inferior goods.

The article went on to say that these "swindles" were apt to occur in
any country, but that England alone lacked the will to punish them:
"it is the lack of even a minimum standard of honour urging even
honest men to protest against such villainy that has brought us where
we are."

In September L. J. Maxse's _National Review_ had a criticism of the
contract by Major Archer-Shee, M.P., with editorial comment as well.
In the same month the _Morning Post_ and the _Spectator_ pressed for
further enquiry. The October number of the _National Review_
contained a searching criticism of the whole business and called
special attention to the Stock Exchange gamble in American Marconis.

A few days later--on October 11--the re-assembled House of Commons
held the promised debate. In the light of what we know, it is
fascinating to read how nobody told a lie exactly and the truth was
concealed all the same. Here is Sir Rufus Isaacs. He begins by
formulating the rumours against Mr. Herbert Samuel and Mr. Lloyd
George and himself. But he is careful to formulate them in such a way
that he can truthfully deny them. The rumours, he says, were that the
Ministers had dealt in the shares of a Company with which the
Government was negotiating a contract: "Never from the beginning . . .
have I had one single transaction with the shares of that Company."

Literally true, as you see. The contract was with the English
Company, the shares he had bought were in the American Company. He
made no allusion to that purchase.

Mr. Herbert Samuel--who is not accused of having purchased shares
himself but who knew of what his colleagues had done--treads the same
careful line: "I say that these stories that members of the Cabinet,
knowing the contract was in contemplation, and feeling that possibly
the price of shares might rise, themselves, directly or indirectly
bought any of those shares, or took any interest in this Company
through any other party whatever, have not one syllable of truth in
them. Neither I myself nor any of my colleagues have at any time held
one shilling's worth of shares in this Company, directly or
indirectly, or have derived one penny profit from the fluctuations in
their prices." However, he promised a Parliamentary Committee to
enquire into the whole affair.

Isaacs had denied any transactions with "that Company," Samuel with
"this Company." Neither had ventured to say "the English
Company"--for that would instantly have raised the question of the
American Company. It is an odd truth that has to be phrased so
delicately. Lloyd George, the first of the ministers to speak,
managed better. He flew into a rage with an interjector: "The hon.
member said something about the Government, and he has talked about
'rumours.' I want to know what these rumours are. If the hon.
gentleman has any charge to make against the Government as a whole,
or against individual members of it, I think it ought to be stated
openly. The reason why the Government wanted _a frank discussion
before going to Committee_* was because we wanted to bring here these
rumours, these sinister rumours, that have been passing from one foul
lip to another behind the backs of the House." He sat down, still in
a white heat, without having denied anything.

[* Italics mine.]

The Master of Elibank did not deny anything either. He was not there.
He was, indeed, no longer in the House of Commons. He had inherited
the title of Lord Murray of Elibank. He had left England in August
and did not return till the enquiry was over: nor did he send any
communication of any sort.

As we have seen, no literal lie was told. But Parliament and the
country assumed that the Ministers had denied any gambling in
Marconis of any sort. And the Ministers must have known that this was
what their denials had been taken to mean.*

[* Rufus Isaacs' son mentions a theory held by some (though he thinks
there are strong arguments against it) that Rufus' silence was due to
instructions from the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, who was not
anxious to have the connection of Lloyd George with the matter
disclosed, "fearing that his personal unpopularity would lead to such
an exacerbation of the attacks that the prestige of the whole
Government might be seriously impaired." (_Rufus Isaacs, First
Marquess of Reading_, pp. 248-9.)]

On October 29 the names were announced of the members appointed to
the promised Committee of Enquiry. As usual they represented the
various parties in proportion to their numbers in the House. The
Liberals were in office, supported by Irish Nationalists and Labour
Members: 9 members of the Committee (including the Chairman) were
from these parties; 6 were Conservatives. One might have expected
that the careful evasions in the House would have meant only a brief
respite for the Ministers who had been so economical of the truth.
They would appear before the Committee and then the whole thing would
emerge. But though the Committee was appointed at the end of October
and met three times most weeks thereafter, five months went by and no
Minister was called. The plain fact is that Mr. Samuel's department,
the Post Office, slanted the enquiry in a different direction right
at the start by putting in evidence a confidential Blue Book and
suggesting that Sir Alexander King, secretary to the Post Office, be
heard first.

On the question of the goodness or badness of the contract itself,
the Committee uncovered much that was interesting. It emerged that
the Poulsen System had offered to erect stations at a cost of about
£36,000 less per station than the Marconi, and that the Admiralty
itself had estimated a cost, if they were undertaking the work, about
the same as the Poulsen offer. But, by a confusion as to whether
their figure did or did not include freight charges, the Admiralty
estimate had been put down at £10,000 higher than it was! Nor was
this the only confusion. When Sir Alexander King spoke of
"concessions" made to the Government by the Marconi Company, he
admitted under cross-questioning that there was no written record of
these concessions. He spoke of various vitally important
conversations and was not able to produce a Minute. Letters referred
to were found to have been lost from the Post Office files.

Further, it appeared that while most rigid tests were to be required
of the other systems, the Marconi people had been constantly taken
almost on their own word alone. "Mr. Isaacs and Mr. Marconi both told
us," said Sir Alexander King at one point, when asked whether he had
had technical advice on a point of working.

"You will excuse me," said Mr. Harold Smith, "if for the moment I
ignore the opinion of Mr. Marconi and Mr. Isaacs. I ask you who was
the expert who gave you this information."

Then too as to the terms. The Government had proposed 3% on the gross
takings. Godfrey Isaacs had held out for 10%, and got it. Moreover,
the royalty was to be paid as long as a single Marconi patent was in
use at the stations. Considering that by the Patents Act the
Government had the legal right to take over _any_ invention while
paying reasonable compensation, the provision which gave so high a
royalty to the Marconi Company was severely criticised. Again the
right was given to the Marconi Company to advise on any fresh
invention that should be offered to the Post Office--which meant that
any invention made by their rivals was entirely at their mercy.

Naturally enough the question was pressed home whether the Post
Office had really sought the advice of its own technical experts. It
transpired that a technical sub-committee had been called once, and
had recommended a further investigation of the Poulsen System. The
report of this sub-committee had been shelved, and the members never
summoned for a second meeting.

Early in January 1913, the Parliamentary Committee (against the
advice of Herbert Samuel) asked for a special sub-committee of
experts to go into the merits of the various wireless systems and
report within three months at latest. It is not surprising that the
_New Witness_ commented on this as "a surrender of the most decided
type, for it proposes to do what Samuel himself clearly ought to have
done before he entered into the contract."

The report of this technical sub-committee showed that there had been
a good deal of exaggeration in the first attack by the _New Witness_
on the worth of the Marconi System. If one single system was to be
used, it was the only one capable of carrying out the Government's
requirements. But the sub-committee held that as wireless was in a
state of rapid development, it would be better not to be tied to any
one system. And they added that while the nature of the contract
itself was not within their terms of reference, they must not be held
to approve it.

From its examination of the contract, the Committee passed on to
examine journalists and others as to the rumours against Ministers.
And still the Ministers were not called.

On February 12, 1913, L. J. Maxse, Editor of _The National Review_,
was being examined by the Committee. Suddenly he put his finger on
the precise spot. Having expressed surprise at the non-appearance of
Ministers, he went on: "One might have conceived that they would have
appeared at its first sitting clamoring to state in the most
categorical and emphatic manner that neither directly nor indirectly,
in their own names or in other people's names, have they had any
transactions whatsoever, either in London, Dublin, New York,
Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, or any other financial centre, in any
shares in any Marconi Company throughout the negotiations with the
Government. . . ."

"Any shares in any Marconi Company": the direct question was at last

On February 14, just two days later, something very curious happened.
_Le Matin_, a Paris Daily paper, published a story to the effect that
Mr. Maxse had charged that Samuel, Rufus Isaacs and Godfrey Isaacs
had bought shares in the English Marconi Company at 50 francs (about
£2 in those days) before the negotiations with the Government were
started and had resold them at 200 francs (about £8) when the public
learnt that the contract was going through. It was an extraordinary
piece of clumsiness for any paper to have printed such a story:
certainly Mr. Maxse had made no such charge. It was an extraordinary
stroke of luck, if the Ministers wanted to tell their story in Court,
that they should have this kind of clumsy libel to deny. And it is at
least a coincidence that Rufus Isaacs happened, as his son tells us,
to be in Paris when _Le Matin_ printed the story. Samuel and Rufus
Isaacs announced that they would prosecute and that Sir Edward Carson
and F. E. Smith were their counsel. This decision to prosecute a not
very important French newspaper, while taking no such step against
papers in their own country, caused Gilbert Chesterton to write a
"song of Cosmopolitan Courage":*

[* _New Witness_, Vol. I, p. 655.]

   I am so swift to seize affronts,
   My spirit is so high,
   Whoever has insulted me
   Some foreigner must die.

   I brought a libel action,
   For the Times had called me "thief,"
   Against a paper in Bordeaux,
   A paper called _Le Juif_.

   _The Nation_ called me "cannibal"
   I could not let it pass--
   I got a retractation
   From a journal in Alsace.

   And when _The Morning Post_ raked up
   Some murders I'd devised,
   A Polish organ of finance
   At once apologised.

   I know the charges varied much;
   At times, I am afraid
   _The Frankfurt Frank_ withdrew a charge
   The _Outlook_ had not made.

   And what the true injustice
   Of the _Standard's_ words had been,
   Was not correctly altered
   In the _Young Turk's Magazine_.

   I know it sounds confusing--
   But as Mr. Lammle said,
   The anger of a gentleman
   Is boiling in my head.

The hearing of the case against _Le Matin_ came on March 19. As that
paper had withdrawn and apologised only three days after printing the
story, there was no actual necessity for statements by Rufus Isaacs
and Samuel. But they had decided to answer Maxse's question, to admit
the dealings in American Marconis which they had not mentioned to the
House of Commons: or rather to get their lawyer to tell the story and
then answer his questions on the matter in a Court case where there
could be no cross-examination because the Defendants were not
contesting the case. Sir Edward Carson mentioned the American
purchase at the end of a long speech and almost as an afterthought--
"really the matter is so removed from the charges made in the libel
that I only go into it at all . . . because of the position of the
Attorney-General and because he wishes in the fullest way to state
this deal, so that it may not be said that he keeps anything
whatsoever back." As _The Times_ remarked (9 June, 1913): "The fact
was stated casually, as though it had been a matter at once trifling
and irrelevant. Only persons of the most scrupulous honour, who
desired that nothing whatsoever should remain hid would, it was
suggested, have thought necessary to mention it at all."

The statement was not really as full as Carson's phrasing would seem
to suggest. The court was told that Rufus Isaacs had bought 10,000
shares--but not from whom he had bought them: that he had paid market
price, but not what the price was, nor that the shares were not on
the market: that he had sold 1000 shares each to Lloyd George and
Elibank, and had sold some on their behalf, but not that these two
had had further buyings and sellings on their own. It was stated for
Sir Rufus and reiterated by him that he had lost money on the
deal--the reason being that while he had gained on the shares sold,
the shares he still held had slumped. (It is difficult to see why
Rufus Isaacs and later Lloyd George made such a point of the loss on
their Marconi transactions. They can hardly have bought the shares in
order to lose money on them, and their initial sellings showed a very
large profit. Indeed Rufus Isaacs' loss depended on his having paid
his brother £2 for the shares, and again upon the 7000 shares he sold
on the opening day being only partly on his own behalf, and there is
only his own word for these two statements. If Rufus lost, he lost to
his brother, who had been willing to sell at cost price, with whom he
had a pooling arrangement, and who made an enormous profit. If Rufus
lost, the loss remained in the family.)

A week after the hearing of the _Matin_ case, Rufus Isaacs appeared
for the first time before the Parliamentary Committee, almost five
months after its formation. His problem was not so much to explain
his dealings in American Marconis, as to account for his silence in
the House of Commons. His one desire that day in Parliament, it
seems, had been to answer the "foul lies" being uttered against him,
which he was "quite unable to find any foundation for, quite unable
to trace the source of, quite unable to understand how they were
started": obviously his dealings in American Marconis could have no
possible bearing on these rumours, so he did not mention them: "I
confined my speech entirely . . . to dealing with the four specific
charges _which I formulated."_*

[* Italics mine.]

The Chairman, Sir Albert Spicer, suggested that one way to scotch the
rumours would have been to mention his investment in American
Marconis, "because both being Marconis you could easily understand
one might get confused with the other." This question always drove
Rufus Isaacs into a rage and indeed he met all difficult questions
with rages which to this day, across the gulf of thirty years, seem
simulated, and not convincingly.

Why had he not earlier asked the Committee to hear the story of the
American shares? "I took the view . . . that I had no right to claim
any preferential position . . . and it seemed to me that it might
almost savour of presumption if I had asked the Committee to take my
evidence or any Minister's evidence, out of the ordinary turn in
which the Committee desired it." All the same he had once written a
letter to the Committee asking to be heard but "on consideration did
not send it."

During his examination the element of strain between the two parties
on the Committee, which had been evident throughout the enquiry, was
very much intensified--Lord Robert Cecil and the Conservatives
courteously but tenaciously trying to get at the truth, the
Ministerialists determined to shield their man. There is a most
unpleasing contrast between the earlier bullying of the journalists
(who after all were not on trial) and the deference the majority now
showed to Ministers (who were).

Rufus Isaacs twisted and turned incredibly. But he did admit to Lord
Robert Cecil that he had obtained the shares before they were
available to the general public and at a price lower than that at
which they were afterwards introduced to them. He tried later to
modify this admission by saying that he had been told of dealings by
others before April 17, but he could give no details: and the
evidence of the Marconi Company's broker (quoted above) is decisive.

Two points of special interest emerged from his evidence. The first
was that he had not told the whole story in the _Matin_ case. He now
mentioned that Lloyd George and Elibank had sold a further 1000 of
the shares he held for them on the second day, July 20; and went on
to tell of the purchase of 3000 shares by the same pair, the
so-called "bear" transaction of May 22. The second was more
unpleasing still. He admitted that he had told the story of the
American Marconis privately to two friends _on the Committee_--
Messrs. Falconer and Booth--who had kept the matter to themselves and
had--or at least appeared to have--continually steered the Committee
away from this dangerous ground. Rufus Isaacs' son actually says that
his father "had informed Mr. Falconer and Mr. Handel Booth privately
of these transactions, in order that they might be forearmed when the
journalists came to give evidence."*

[* _Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading_, p. 256.]

On March 28 Lloyd George appeared before the Committee. Mrs. Charles
Masterman gives an account of Rufus Isaacs grooming Lloyd George for
the event:

   There was a really very comic, though somewhat alarming, scene
   between Rufus and George on the following Sunday. George had to give
   evidence on the Monday--the following day--and Rufus discovered that
   George was still in a perfect fog as to what his transaction really
   had been, and began talking about "buying a bear." I have never seen
   Rufus so nearly lose his temper, and George got extremely sulky,
   while Rufus patiently reminded him what he had paid, what he still
   owed, when he had paid it, who to, and what for. It was on that
   occasion also that Charlie and Rufus tried to impress upon him with
   all the force in their power to avoid technical terms and to stick as
   closely as possible to the plainest and most ordinary language. _As
   is well known, George made a great success of his evidence_.*
   (Italics mine.)

[* _C. F. G. Masterman_, p. 255.]

I cannot imagine why she thought so. Hugh O'Donnell's description in
the _New Witness_ of Isaacs and Lloyd George as they appeared before
the Committee accords perfectly with the impression produced by a
reading of the evidence:

   . . . While the simile of a panther at bay, anxious to escape, but
   ready with tooth and claw, might be applied to Sir Rufus Isaacs,
   something more like "a rat in a corner" might be suggested by the
   restless, snapping, furious little figure which succeeded. Let us
   compromise by saying that Mr. Lloyd George was singularly like a
   spitting, angry cat, which had got, perhaps, out of serious danger
   from her pursuers, but which caterwauled and spat and swore with
   vigour and venomousness quite surprising in that diminutive bulk.
   "Dastardly," "dishonourable," "disgraceful," "disreputable,"
   "skulking," "cowardly!"

Asked why he had not mentioned his Marconi purchases in the House of
Commons, Lloyd George gave two answers: (1) "There was no time on a
Friday afternoon" (2) "I could not get up and take time when two
Ministers had already spoken." Why had he not asked to be heard
sooner by the Committee? He understood that Sir Rufus had expressed
the willingness of all the accused Ministers to be heard. Like Sir
Rufus, Lloyd George mentioned that he had lost money on his Marconi

The obstruction within the Committee continued to the end. The
question had arisen whether Godfrey had had the right to sell the
shares at his own price or for his own profit. He had sold a
considerable number of shares to relations and friends at £1.1.3,
whereas shares were sold to the general public at £3.5.0. Others of
his shares he sold on the Stock Exchange at varying prices, all high.
But were the shares his? Or did they belong to the English Company?
If they were his he was entitled to sacrifice vast profits on some by
selling at cost to his relations, and to take solid profits on others
by selling at what he could get in the open market. But if he was
simply selling as an agent of the Company, he had no right to make so
fantastic a present of one lot of shares and was bound to hand over
to the Company profits made on the others.

He told the Committee that the 500,000 shares had been sold to him
outright but that he had passed on £46,000 of profits to the Company.
He said that a record of this sale of 500,000 shares to him would be
found in the minutes of the English Company. The books of the Company
were inspected and it was found that no such minute existed. Lord
Robert Cecil naturally wished to recall Godfrey Isaacs to explain the
discrepancy between his statements and the records. The usual 8 to 6
majority decided that there was no need to recall Godfrey. It looked
rather as if the shares Godfrey had sold to Harry and Harry to Rufus
at such favourable prices belonged to--and should have been sold for
the profit of--the Company.

On May 7 the Committee concluded its hearings and its members were
marshalling their ideas for the Report. But there was one fact for
them and the public still to learn. Early in June they were re-called
to hear about it. A London stockbroker had absconded: a trustee was
appointed to handle his affairs and it was discovered that the
fleeing stockbroker had acted for the still absent Elibank, had
indeed bought American Marconis for him--a total of 3000: and as it
later appeared, these had been bought for the funds of the Liberal
Party. The comment of _The Times_ (June 9, 1913) on "the totally
unnecessary difficulty which has been placed in the way of getting at
the truth" seems moderate enough.


Meanwhile the _New Witness_ had not been neglecting its
self-appointed task of striking at every point that looked
vulnerable. On January 9, 1913, an article appeared attacking the
city record of Mr. Godfrey Isaacs and listing the bankrupt
companies--there were some twenty of them--of which he had been
promoter or director. Some more ardent spirit in the _New Witness_
office sent sandwichmen to parade up and down in front of Godfrey
Isaacs' own office bearing a placard announcing his "Ghastly
failures." Cecil Chesterton said later that he had not ordered this
to be done, but he refused to disclaim responsibility. The placard
was the last straw. Godfrey's solicitors wrote to Cecil saying that
Godfrey would prosecute unless Cecil promised to make no further
statement reflecting on his honour till both had given evidence
before the Parliamentary Committee. Cecil replied: "I am pleased to
hear that your client, Mr. Godfrey Isaacs, proposes to bring an
action against me." And in the _New Witness_ (February 27, 1913) he
wrote: "We are up against a very big thing. . . . You cannot have the
honour (and the fun) of attacking wealthy and powerfully entrenched
interests without the cost. We have counted the cost; we counted it
long ago. We think it good enough--much more than good enough."

The case came on at the Old Bailey on May 27. It is worth recalling
the exact position at this time. The Parliamentary Committee had
concluded its hearings three weeks earlier and was now preparing its
report. (Cecil Chesterton had not given evidence before it, for
though he had frequently demanded to be summoned, when at last the
summons came he excused himself on the plea of ill-health and the
further plea that he wished to reserve his evidence for his own
trial.) the _Matin_ case had been heard a couple of months earlier.
Everything that was ever to be known about ministerial dealings in
Marconis was by now known, except for Elibank's separate purchase on
behalf of the Party Funds, which was made public just at the end of
the trial.

Sir Edward Carson and F. E. Smith were again teamed, as in the
_Matin_ case. The charge was criminal libel. Cecil insisted on facing
the charge alone. His various contributors had joined in the attack
but Cecil would not give the names of the authors of unsigned
articles and took full responsibility as Editor. Carson's opening
speech for the Prosecution divided the six alleged libels under two
main heads: One set, said Carson, charged Godfrey Isaacs with being a
corrupt man who induced his corrupt brother to use his influence with
the corrupt Samuel to get a corrupt contract entered into. The
opening attack under this head has already been quoted. Later
attacks did not diminish in violence: "the swindle or rather
theft--impudent and barefaced as it is": "when Samuel was caught with
his hand in the till (or Isaacs if you prefer to put it that way)."

The second set charged that Godfrey Isaacs had had transactions with
various companies which, had the Attorney-General not been his
brother, would have got him prosecuted. There is the same violence
here: "This is not the first time in the Marconi affair that we find
these two gentlemen [Godfrey and Rufus] swindling": and again: "the
files at Somerset House of the Isaacs companies cry out for vengeance
on the man who created them, who manipulated them, who filled them
with his own creatures, who worked them solely for his own ends, and
who sought to get rid of some of them when they had served his
purpose by casting the expense of burial on to the public purse."

There is no need to describe the case in detail. On the charges
concerned with the contract and ministerial corruption, the same
witnesses (with the notable exception of Lloyd George) gave much the
same evidence as before the Parliamentary Committee. Very little that
was new emerged. The contract looked worse than ever after Cecil
Chesterton's Counsel, Ernest Wild, had examined witnesses, but Mr.
Justice Phillimore insisted that it had nothing to do with the case
"whether the contract was badly drawn or improvident."

But indeed all this discussion of the contract was given an air of
unreality by the extraordinary line the Chesterton Defence took. It
distinguished between the two sets of charges, offering to justify
the second (concerning Godfrey Isaacs' business record) but claiming
that the first set brought accusation of corruption not against
Godfrey but against Rufus and Herbert Samuel--who were not the
prosecutors. It was an impossible position to say that Ministers were
fraudulently giving a fraudulent contract to Godfrey Isaacs but that
this did not mean that he was in the fraud. Cecil showed up unhappily
under cross-examination on this matter, but from the point of view of
his whole campaign worse was to follow: for Cecil withdrew the
charges of corruption he had levelled at the Ministers!

Here are extracts from the relevant sections of the cross-examination
by Sir Edward Carson:

   Carson: And do you now accuse him [Godfrey Isaacs] of any
   abominable business--I mean in relation to obtaining the contract?

   Cecil Chesterton: Yes, certainly; I now accuse Mr. Isaacs of very
   abominable conduct between March 7 and July 19.

   Carson: Do you accuse the Postmaster General of dishonesty or

   C. Chesterton: What I accused the Postmaster General of was of
   having given a contract which was a byword for laxity and thereby
   laying himself open reasonably to the suspicion that he was
   conferring a favour on Mr. Godfrey Isaacs because he was the
   Attorney-General's brother.

   Carson: I must repeat my question, do you accuse the
   Postmaster-General of anything dishonest or dishonourable?

   C. Chesterton: After the Postmaster-General's denials on oath I
   must leave the question; I will not accuse him of perjury.

   Carson: And therefore you do not accuse him of anything dishonest
   or dishonourable?


   Judge: That is evasion. Do you or do you not accuse him?

   C. Chesterton: I have said "No."


   C. Chesterton: My idea at that time was that Sir Rufus Isaacs had
   influenced Mr. Samuel to benefit Godfrey Isaacs.

   Carson: You have not that opinion now?

   C. Chesterton: Sir Rufus has denied it on oath and I accepted his

Cecil still insisted that though the Ministers had not been
corrupted, what had come to light about Godfrey's offer of American
Marconi shares to his brother showed that Godfrey had tried to
corrupt them. Godfrey could not have enjoyed the case very much.
There was much emphasis on his concealment of Clause 10 (allowing the
Government to terminate at any time): and Sir Alexander King,
secretary to the Post Office, admitted that Godfrey Isaacs had asked
that it be kept quiet: but this was not among the accusations Cecil
had levelled at him. In his summing up, Mr. Justice Phillimore
indicated the possibility that the shares Godfrey had so gaily sold
belonged not to himself but to the English Marconi Company--merely
adding that this question was not relevant to the present case.
Further the record of his company failures _was_ rather ghastly.

Here is a section of his cross-examination as to the companies he had
been connected with before the Marconi Company--remember that there
were twenty of them!

   Wild: I am trying to discover a success.

   Judge: It is not an imputation against a man that he has been a

   Wild: Here are cases after cases of failure.

   Isaacs: That is my misfortune.

   Judge: You might as well cross-examine any speculative widow.

   Wild: A speculative widow would not be concerned in the management.

   *   *   *

   Wild: Can you point to one success except Marconi in the whole of
   your career?

   Isaacs: In companies?

   Wild: Yes.

   Isaacs: A complete success, no; I should not call any one of them a
   complete success, but I may say that each of them was an endeavour to
   develop something new.

But Carson had made the point in his opening speech that though
Godfrey Isaacs had been connected with so many failures, he had not
been accused by the shareholders of anything dishonourable: in his
closing speech he pointed out that "not one single City man had been
brought forward to say that he had been deceived to the extent of one
sixpence by the representations of Mr. Isaacs." And indeed the
evidence called by the Defence in this present case, however
suspicious it may have made some of his actions appear, did not
establish beyond doubt any actual illegality.

The trial ended on June 9. The Judge summed up heavily against Cecil
Chesterton. The jury was out only forty minutes. The verdict was
"Guilty." Cecil Chesterton, says the _Times_, "smiled and waved his
hand to friends and relations who sat beside the dock." The Judge
preached him a solemn little homily and then imposed a fine of £100
and costs. The Chestertons and all who stood with them held that so
mild a fine instead of a prison sentence for one who had been found
guilty of criminal libel on so large a scale was in itself a moral
victory. "It is a great relief to us," ran the first Editorial in the
_New Witness_ after the conclusion of the trial, "to have our hands
free. We have long desired to re-state our whole case about the
Marconi disgrace, in view of the facts that are now before us and the
English people. . . . When we began our attack . . . we were striking
at something very powerful and very dangerous . . . we were striking
at it in the dark. The politicians saw to that. Our defence is that
if we had not ventured to strike in the dark, we and the people of
England should be in the dark still."

There can be no question of Cecil Chesterton's courage. But he may
have exaggerated a little in saying that if the _New Witness_ had not
struck in the dark the nation would still be in the dark: Parliament
had already refused to approve the contract without proper discussion
and the _Outlook_ was attacking vigorously, _before_ the first _New
Witness_ attack. And there are grave drawbacks to the making of
charges in the dark which later have to be withdrawn. Cecil's
withdrawal of his charges against the Ministers and his failure to
substantiate his charges against Godfrey's company record may have
done more to hinder than help the cause of clean government. But his
courage remains: and, if one has to choose, one prefers the
immoderate man who said more than he knew to the careful men who said
so much less. Gilbert giving evidence at the trial had said that he
envied his brother the dignity of his present position. And with the
Isaacs brothers in mind, one sees the point.


Four days after the verdict against Cecil Chesterton, the
Parliamentary Committee produced its report. There had been a draft
report somewhat critical of the Marconi-buying Ministers by the
Chairman, Sir Albert Spicer; and another considerably more critical
by Lord Robert Cecil. Lord Robert's report said that Rufus Isaacs had
committed "grave impropriety in making an advantageous purchase of
shares . . . upon advice and information not yet fully available to
the public. . . . By doing so he placed himself, however unwittingly,
in a position in which his private interests or sense of obligation
might easily have been in conflict with his public duty. . . ." Of
his silence in the House, Lord Robert said: "We regard that reticence
as a grave error of judgment and as wanting in frankness and in
respect for the House of Commons."

Upon this Rufus Isaacs' son comments: "The vehemence of this language
was not calculated to commend the draft to the majority of the
Committee." Vehemence seems hardly the word; but at any rate the
Committee did not adopt either Lord Robert's report or Sir Albert

By the usual party vote of 8 to 6, it adopted a report prepared by
Mr. Falconer (one of the two whom Rufus Isaacs had approached
privately) which simply took the line that the Ministers had acted in
good faith and refrained from criticising them.

Parliament debated the matter a few days later on a Conservative
motion: "That this House regrets the transactions of certain of its
Ministers in the shares of the Marconi Company of America, and the
want of frankness displayed by Ministers in their communications on
the subject to the House." Rufus Isaacs' son speaks of the certain
ruin of his father's career if "by some unpredictable misadventure"
the motion had been carried. It would indeed have had to be an
"unpredictable misadventure" for the voting was on the strictest
party lines: which means that the House did not express its real
opinion at all: the motion was defeated by 346 to 268. Lloyd George
and Rufus Isaacs expressed regret for any indiscretion there might
have been in their actions: Rufus explained that he would not have
bought the shares--"if I had thought that men could be so suspicious
of any action of mine." In the debate the Leader of the Opposition,
Arthur Balfour, somewhat disdainfully refused to make political
capital out of the business. Lloyd George and Isaacs were loudly
cheered by their own Party--though whether they were cheered for
having bought American Marconis or for having concealed the purchase
from the House there is now no means of discovering. At any rate
their careers were not damaged: the one went on to become Lord Chief
Justice of England and later Viceroy of India: the other became Prime
Minister during the war of 1914-1918.

One question arising from the episode is whether it meant what Cecil
Chesterton and Belloc thought it meant in the world of party
politics, or something entirely different. They seem throughout to
have assumed that their thesis of collusion between the Party Leaders
was proved by this scandal: it seems to me quite as easy to make the
case that it was _disproved_.

A Conservative first raises the matter by inconvenient questions in
the House. A group of young Conservatives pay the costs of Cecil
Chesterton's defence. When a Parliamentary Committee is appointed to
enquire into the alleged corruption, the story of every session
becomes one of a Conservative minority trying hard to ferret out the
truth and a ministerial majority determined to prevent their
succeeding. Finally the leading Conservative Commissioner, Lord
Robert Cecil, issues a restrained but most damning report which is,
as a matter of course, rejected by the Liberal majority.

A Conservative M.P. told me he thought the great mistake made was
that it had all been made "too much of a party question." Unless you
already disbelieved quite violently in the existence of the two
parties this would certainly be the effect upon you of reading the
report of the Commission Sessions, and all that can be set against it
is the fact that Mr. Balfour did, in the House of Commons, utter a
conventional form of words which, as has been said, really amounted
to a refusal to make political capital out of the affair.

I do not say, for I do not pretend to know, if this is the correct
interpretation: it is certainly the obvious one.

Douglas Jerrold in a brilliant article on Belloc,* treats his theory
of the Party System as a false one, and maintains that he mistook for
collusion that degree of co-operation that alone could enable a
country to be governed at all under a party system. A certain
continuity must be preserved if, in the old phrase, "The King's
Government is to be carried on"--but such continuity did not spell a
corrupt collusion. If at this distance of time such a view can be
held by a man of Mr. Jerrold's ability it could certainly be held at
the time by the majority--and it may be that the continual assumption
of an unproved fact got in the way in the fight against more obvious

[* "Hilaire Belloc and the Counter Revolution" in _For Hilaire

For bound up with this question is another: _The Eye Witness_ seemed
so near success and yet never quite succeeded. Might it have done so
had it been founded with a single eye to creative opportunity--to the
attack on the Servile State and the building of some small beginning
of an alternative? _G.K.'s Weekly_ was a slight improvement from that
point of view--for it did create the Distributist League; but both
papers, I think, had from their inception a divided purpose that made
failure almost inevitable.

The fight against corruption which had been placed equal with the
fight for property and liberty at the start of the _Eye Witness_ is a
noble aim. But, like the other, it is a life work. To do it a man
must have time to spend verifying rumours or exploding them,
following up clues, patiently waiting on events. I began to read the
files with an assumption of the accuracy of the claims of the _Eye_
and _New Witness_ as to its own achievement in all this, but when the
dates and facts in the Marconi case had been tabulated for me
chronologically I began to wonder. Again and again the editor stated
that _The New Witness_ had been first to unearth the Marconi matter.
But it hadn't. As we have seen, questions in the House and attacks in
other papers had _preceded_ their first mention of the subject.

So too the statement that the Marconi affair had proved how little
Englishmen cared about corruption seemed almost absurd when one read
not only the Conservative but also the Liberal comment of the time.
"Political corruption is the Achilles heel of Liberalism," said an
outstanding Liberal Editor; while Hugh O'Donnell in the _New Witness_
paraphrased the wail of the "Cadbury" papers:

   'Tis the voice of the Cocoa
   I hear it exclaim
   O Geordie, dear Geordie
   Don't do it again.

Just how scandalous _was_ the Marconi scandal? At this distance of
time it is difficult to arrive at any clear view. There are two main
problems--the contract and the purchase of American Marconis.

The contract seems very definitely to have been unduly favourable to
the Company; clauses were so badly drawn that they had to be
supplemented by letters which had no legal effect; documents were
lost, other tenders misinterpreted, other systems perhaps not fully
examined, the report of a sub-committee shelved, Godfrey Isaacs
allowed to issue a misleading report without correction from the Post
Office. It all may spell corruption: but it need not. No one familiar
with the workings of a Government department is likely to be
surprised at any amount of muddle and incompetence. Matters are
forgotten and then in the effort to make up for lost time important
steps are simply omitted. Officials are pig-headed and unreasonable.
And as to lost documents--

What of the ministers' dealings in shares? Godfrey may have been
using Rufus to purchase ministerial favour. If so, he could hardly
have done so on the comparatively small scale of the dealings known
to us. The few thousand involved could not have meant an enormous
amount to Rufus. He had, it is true, begun his career on the Stock
Exchange, found himself insolvent and been "hammered." But he had
gone on to make large sums at the Bar--up to thirty thousand pounds a
year; and his salary as Attorney-General was twenty thousand a year.

There may, of course, have been far heavier purchases than we know
about: the piece-by-piece emergence of what we do know gives us no
confidence that all the pieces ever emerged. We have only the word of
the two brothers for most of the story and one comes to feel that
their word has no great meaning. But, allowing for all that, it is
possible that Godfrey may have wanted Rufus to have the American
shares out of family affection; of the shares Godfrey personally
disposed of, a very large number went to relations and close
friends--mother, sisters, his wife's relations--who certainly could
not help to get his contract through Parliament. If this, the most
charitable interpretation, is also the true one, Rufus and his
political friends acted with considerable impropriety in snatching at
this opportunity of quick and easy money. The rest of the story is of
their efforts to prevent this impropriety being discovered. Had they
mentioned it openly in Parliament on October 11, the matter might
have ended there. But they lacked the nerve: the occasion passed: and
nothing remained, especially for Rufus, but evasion, shiftiness,
half-truth passing as whole truth, the farce of indignant virtue--a
performance which left him not a shred of dignity and ought to have
made it unthinkable that he should ever again be given public office.
The perfect word on the whole episode was uttered, not by either
Gilbert or Cecil Chesterton or by any of their friends, but by
Rudyard Kipling. The case had meant a great deal to him. On June 15,
a Conservative neighbour of Kipling wrote to Gilbert:

   I cannot let the days pass without writing to congratulate you and
   your brother on the result of the Isaacs Trial. . . . I do feel, as
   many thousands of English people must feel, that the _New Witness_ is
   fighting on the side of English Nationalism and that is our common
   battle. My neighbour, Rudyard Kipling, has followed every phase of
   the fight with interest of such a kind that it almost precluded his
   thinking of anything else at all and when he gets hold of the _New
   Witness_ (my copy) I never can get it back again. You see, however
   much we have all disagreed--do disagree--we are all in the same boat
   about a lot of things of the first rank. . . . We can't afford to
   differ just now if we do agree--it's all too serious.

When Isaacs was appointed Viceroy of India, Kipling wrote the poem:


   Whence comest thou, Gehazi
   So reverend to behold
   In scarlet and in ermine
   And chain of England's gold?
   From following after Naaman
   To tell him all is well;
   Whereby my zeal has made me
   A judge in Israel.

   Well done, well done, Gehazi,
   Stretch forth thy ready hand,
   Thou barely 'scaped from Judgment,
   Take oath to judge the land.
   Unswayed by gift of money
   Or privy bribe more base,
   Or knowledge which is profit
   In any market place.

   Search out and probe, Gehazi,
   As thou of all canst try
   The truthful, well-weighed answer
   That tells the blacker lie:
   The loud, uneasy virtue,
   The anger feigned at will,
   To overbear a witness
   And make the court keep still.

   Take order now, Gehazi,
   That no man talk aside
   In secret with the judges
   The while his case is tried,
   Lest he should show them reason,
   To keep the matter hid,
   And subtly lead the questions
   Away from what he did.

   Thou mirror of uprightness,
   What ails thee at thy vows,
   What means the risen whiteness
   Of skin between thy brows?
   The boils that shine and burrow,
   The sores that slough and bleed--
   The leprosy of Naaman
   On thee and all thy seed?

   Stand up, stand up, Gehazi,
   Draw close thy robe and go
   Gehazi, judge in Israel.
   A leper white as snow!

As the _Times_ leading article of June 19, 1913, put it: "A man is
not blamed for being splashed with mud. He is commiserated. But if he
has stepped into a puddle which he might easily have avoided, we say
that it is his own fault. If he protests that he did not know it was
a puddle, we say that he ought to know better; but if he says that it
was after all quite a clean puddle, then we judge him deficient in
the sense of cleanliness. And the British public like their public
men to have a very nice sense of cleanliness."

That, fundamentally, was what troubled Gilbert Chesterton then and
for the rest of his life. He was not himself an investigator of
political scandals--in that field he trusted his brother and Belloc,
and on this particular matter Cecil had certainly said more than he
knew and possibly more than was true. But it did not take an expert
to know that some of the men involved in the Marconi Case had no very
nice sense of cleanliness: and these men were going to be dominant in
the councils of England, and to represent England in the face of the
world, for a long time to come.


The Eve of the War (1911-1915)

DURING THE EARLIER YEARS of the _New Witness_ Gilbert had nothing to
do with the editing, and his contributions to it were only part of
the continuing volume of his weekly journalism. It would be almost
impossible to trace all the articles in papers and magazines that
were never republished: the volumes of essays appearing year by year
probably contained the best among them. He was still in 1911 writing
for the _Daily News_ and every week until his death he continued to
do "Our Notebook" for the _Illustrated London News_. I have found an
unpublished ballade he wrote on the subject:


   In icy circles by the Behring Strait,
   In moony jungles where the tigers roar,
   In tropic isles where civil servants wait,
   And wonder what the deuce they're waiting for,
   In lonely lighthouses beyond the Nore,
   In English country houses crammed with Jews,
   Men still will study, spell, perpend and pore
   And read the Illustrated London News.

   Our fathers read it at the earlier date
   And twirled the funny whiskers that they wore
   Ere little Levy got his first estate
   Or Madame Patti got her first encore.
   While yet the cannon of the Christian tore
   The lords of Delhi in their golden shoes
   Men asked for all the news from Singapore
   And read the Illustrated London News.

   But I, whose copy is extremely late
   And ought to have been sent an hour before
   I still sit here and trifle with my fate
   And idly write another ballad more.
   I know it is too late; and all is o'er,
   And all my writings they will now refuse
   I shall be sacked next Monday. So be sure
   And read the Illustrated London News.


   Prince, if in church the sermon seems a bore
   Put up your feet upon the other pews,
   Light a Fabrica de Tabagos Flor
   And read the Illustrated London News.

Debating and lecturing went on, and an amusing letter from Bernard
Shaw shows the preparations for a Three Star Show--Shaw against
Chesterton with Belloc in the chair--in 1911. An exactly similar
debate years later was published in a slender volume entitled _Do We
Agree?_ On both occasions the crowd was enormous and many had to be
turned away. All three men were immensely popular figures and all
three were at their best debating in a hall of moderate size where
swift repartee could be followed by the whole audience.

Gilbert always shone on these occasions. The challenge of a debate
brought forth all his powers of wit and humour. His opponent
furnished material on which he could work. And how he enjoyed
himself! Frank Swinnerton once heard him laugh so much that he gave
himself hiccups for the rest of the evening. I heard him against Miss
Cicely Hamilton and against Mr. Selfridge and felt the only drawback
to be that the fight was so very unequal. The Selfridge debate in
particular was sheer cruelty, so utterly unaware was the business man
that he was being intellectually massacred by a man who regarded all
that Selfridge's stores stood for as the ruin of England.
Occasionally Mr. Selfridge looked bewildered when the audience rocked
with laughter at some phrase that clearly conveyed no meaning to him
at all. But so complete was his failure to understand what it was all
about that when the meeting was over he asked if Chesterton would not
write his name with a diamond on a window of his store already graced
with many great names. For once Chesterton was at a loss for words.
"Oh, how jolly!" he murmured feebly.

Very different was it when he debated with Bernard Shaw with Belloc
as third performer.

   Ayot St. Lawrence, Welwyn, Herts.
   27th Oct. 1911.

   Don't be dismayed: this doesn't need a reply.


   With reference to this silly debate of ours, what you have to bear
   in mind is this.

   I am prepared to accept any conditions. If they seem unfair to me
   from the front of the house, all the better for me; therefore do not
   give me that advantage unless you wish to, or are--as you probably
   are--as indifferent to the rules as I am.

   The old Hyndman-Bradlaugh & Shaw-Foote debates (S-F. was a
   two-nighter) were arranged thus. Each debater made 3 speeches: 1 of
   30 minutes, 1 of 15 and 1 of 10. Strict time was kept (the audiences
   were intensely jealous of the least departure from the rules); and
   the chairman simply explained the conditions and called Time without
   touching the subject of debate.

   The advantages of this were, (a) that the opponent or the opener
   could introduce fresh matter up to the end of his second speech, and
   was tied up in that respect for the last 10 minutes only, and (b)
   that the debate was one against one, and not one against two (and
   with less time allowed for him at that), as it must have been had the
   chairman dealt with the subject.

   The disadvantages for us are that we both want Belloc to let
   himself go (I simply thirst for the blood of his Servile State--I'll
   Servile him); and nobody wants to tie you down to matter previously
   introduced when you make your final reply. We shall all three talk
   all over the shop--possibly never reaching the Socialism
   department--and Belloc will not trouble himself about the rules of
   public meeting and debate, even if there were any reason to suppose
   that he is acquainted with them. (Do you recollect how Parnell and
   Biggar floored the House in the palmy days of obstruction by meanly
   getting up the subject of public order, which no one else suspected
   the existence of?)

   I therefore conclude that we had better make it to some extent a
   clowns' cricket match, and go ahead as in the debates with Sanders &
   Macdonald & Cicely Hamilton, which were all wrong technically. In a
   really hostile debate it is better to be as strict as possible; but
   as this is going to be a performance in which three Macs who are on
   the friendliest terms in private will belabor each other recklessly
   on wooden scalps and pillowed waistcoats and trouser seats, we need
   not be particular.

   Still, you had better know exactly what you are doing: hence this
   wildly hurried scrawl.

   Did you see my letter in Tuesday's _Times?_ Magnificent!

   My love to Mrs. Chesterton, and my most distinguished consideration
   to Winkle.* To hell with the Pope!

[* The Chestertons' dog who preceded Quoodle of the poem.]



   P.S. I told Sanders to explain to you that you would be entitled to
   half the gate (or a third if Belloc shares) and that you were likely
   to overlook this if you were not warned. I take it that you have
   settled this somehow.

At the second of these debates Belloc opened the proceedings by
announcing to the audience "You are about to listen, I am about to
sneer." His only contribution to the debate was to recite a poem:

   Our civilisation
   Is built upon coal
   Let us chant in rotation
   Our civilisation
   That lump of damnation
   Without any soul
   Our civilisation
   Is built upon coal.

Bernard Shaw was on the friendliest terms with the others and admired
their genius but thought it ill directed. Belloc, he had told
Chesterton, was "wasting prodigious gifts" in the service of the Pope.

"I have not met G.K.C.: Shaw always calls him a man of colossal
genius" writes Lawrence of Arabia to a friend.

As a lecturer Chesterton's success was less certain than as a
debater. Many of his greatest admirers say they have heard him give
very poor lectures. He was often nervous and worried beforehand. "As
a lecture," wrote the _Yorkshire Weekly Post_ after a performance
in this year (1911), "it was a fiasco, but as an exhibition of
Chesterton it was pleasing." Although his writing appeared almost
effortless he did in fact take far more pains about it than he did in
preparing for a lecture. He seemed quite incapable of remembering the
time or place of appointment, or of getting there on time, if at all.
Stories are told of his non-appearance on various platforms. My
husband remembers a meeting in a London theatre at which Chesterton
had been billed as one of the speakers. The meeting, arranged by the
Knights of the Blessed Sacrament, was well under way before he
arrived, panting but unperturbed. His apology ran something like
this: "As knights you will understand my not being here at the
beginning, for the whole point of knighthood was that the knight
should arrive late but not too late. Had St. George not been late
there would have been no story. Had he been too late, there would
have been no princess."

Even more annoying was his habit of beginning his lecture by saying
he had not prepared it. Such a remark is not likely to please any
audience, least of all an audience that has paid for admission and
knows that the lecturer is receiving a large fee. But money, whether
he was receiving it or giving it away, meant nothing to him. He had
not a strong voice, and I have seen him, when a microphone was
provided, holding a paper of notes between himself and it. An ardent
admirer of his writing told me he made far too many jokes about his
size. Yet how pleasing they sometimes were: when his Chairman for
instance, after a long wait, said he had feared a traffic accident:
"Had I met a tram-car," Chesterton replied, "it would have been a
great, and if I may say so, an equal encounter."

He thought badly of his own lecturing and began once by saying: "I
might call myself a lecturer; but then again I fear some of you may
have attended my lectures."

Actually, in spite of the jokes, his thoughts were centred entirely
on his subject, not on himself. An anonymous Society Diarist quoted
by Cosmo Hamilton writes of an occasion when: "he was given, rather
foolishly, a little gold period chair and as he made his points it
slowly collapsed under him. He rose just in time and sinking into
another chair that someone put behind him began at the word he had
last spoken. No acting could have secured such an effect of complete
indifference. It was evident that he had barely noticed the incident."

Ellis Roberts completes the picture. He knew Gilbert already as a
brilliant talker and came to hear him from a platform:

"I remember the manner of his lecture. It seemed to be written on a
hundred pieces of variously shaped paper, written in ink and pencil
(of all colours) and in chalk. All the pages were in a splendid and
startling disorder and I remember being at first a little
disappointed. Then the papers were abandoned and G.K.C. talked."*

[* _Reading for Pleasure_, p. 96.]

At this time Bernard Shaw scored a victory over his friend. For
beside lecturing, journalism and the publication of three
considerable and two minor books, Chesterton between 1911 and the War
wrote the play that Shaw had been so insistently demanding. The books
were: _Manalive_ 1911, _A Miscellany of Men_ (Essays) 1912, _The
Victorian Age in Literature_ February 1913, _The Wisdom of Father
Brown_ 1914, _The Flying Inn_ 1914. The play was _Magic_ produced at
the Little Theatre in October 1913. One who admired it was George
Moore. He wrote to Forster Bovill (November 24, 1913):

   I followed the comedy of _Magic_ from the first line to the last with
   interest and appreciation, and I am not exaggerating when I say that
   I think of all modern plays I like it the best. Mr. Chesterton wished
   to express an idea and his construction and his dialogue are the best
   that he could have chosen for the expression of that idea: therefore,
   I look upon the play as practically perfect. The Prologue seems
   unnecessary, likewise the magician's love for the young lady. That
   she should love the magician is well enough, but it materialises him
   a little too much if he returns that love. I would have preferred her
   to love him more and he to love her less. But this spot, if it be a
   spot, is a very small one on a spotless surface of excellence.

   I hope I can rely upon you to tell Mr. Chesterton how much I
   appreciated his Play as I should like him to know my artistic

"Artistic sympathies" is not ungenerous considering how Chesterton
had written of George Moore in _Heretics_.

It is rather comic that all the reviews hailing from Germany where
the play was very soon produced compare Chesterton with Shaw and many
of them say that he is the better playwright. "He means more to it,"
a Munich paper was translated as saying, "than the good old Shaw."
Chesterton's superiority can hardly be entertained in the matter of
technique. Actually what the critic meant was that he preferred the
ideas of Chesterton to the ideas of Shaw. Both men were chiefly
concerned with ideas. But while Shaw excelled chiefly in presenting
them through brilliant dialogue, G.K.'s deeper thoughts were conveyed
in another fashion. The Duke might almost, it is true, have been a
Shaw character, but the fun the audience got out of him was the least
thing they received. Chesterton once said that he suspected Shaw of
being the only man who had never written any poetry. Many of us
suspect that Chesterton never wrote anything else. This play is a
poem and the greatest character in it is atmosphere. Chesterton
believed in the love of God and man, he believed in the devil: love
conquers diabolical evil and the atmosphere of this struggle is felt
even in the written page and was felt more vividly in the theatre.
After a passage of many years those who saw it remember the moment
when the red lamp turned blue as a felt experience.

But as to popularity, in England at least, it would be absurd to
compare G.K. with G.B.S. The play's run was a brief one and it was
years before he attempted another.

Chesterton was fighting corruption, fighting the Servile State. Above
all things he was fighting sterility, fighting it in the name of
life--life with its richness, its variety, its sins and its virtues,
with its positively outrageous sanity. "Thank you for being alive,"
wrote an admirer to him.

_Manalive_ is above all things a hymn to life. It is the acid test of
a Chestertonian. Reviewers became wildly enthusiastic or bitterly
scornful. Borrowing from his own phrase about Pickwick I am inclined
to say that men not in love with life will not appreciate _Manalive_--
nor, I should imagine, heaven. The ideas that make up the book had
been long in his head. The story of White Wynd written while he was
at the Slade School tells one half of the story, an unpublished
fragment of the same period entitled "The Burden of Balham" the
other half. The Great Wind that blows Innocent Smith to Beacon House
is the wind of life and it blows through the whole story. Before an
improvised Court of Law Smith is tried on three charges:
housebreaking--but it was his own house that he broke into to renew
the vividness of ownership; bigamy--but it was his own wife with whom
he repeatedly eloped to renew the ecstasy of first love; murder with
a large and terrifying revolver--but he dealt life not death from its
barrel. For he used it only to threaten those who said they were
tired of life or that life was not worth living, and he forced them
through fear of death to hymn the praises of life.

The explanation given by Smith to Dr. Eames, the Master of
Brakespeare College, of his ideas and his purpose gives the note of
fooling and profundity filling the whole book.

   "I want both my gifts to come virgin and violent, the death and the
   life after death. I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the
   Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him--only to bring him to
   life. I begin to see a new meaning in being the skeleton at the

   "You can scarcely be called a skeleton," said Dr. Eames smiling.

   "That comes of being so much at the feast," answered the massive
   youth. "No skeleton can keep his figure if he is always dining out.
   But that is not quite what I meant: what I mean is that I caught a
   kind of glimpse of the meaning of death and all that--the skull and
   the crossbones, the _Memento Mori_. It isn't only meant to remind us
   of a future life, but to remind us of a present life too. With our
   weak spirits we should grow old in Eternity if we were not kept young
   by death. Providence has to cut immortality into lengths for us, as
   nurses cut the bread and butter into fingers."

_Manalive_ appeared in 1911. Next year came what is perhaps his
best-known single piece of writing, the _Battle of Lepanto_. In the
spring of 1912 he had taken part in a debate at Leeds, affirming that
all wars were religious wars. Father O'Connor supported him with a
magnificent description of the battle of Lepanto. Obviously it seized
Gilbert's mind powerfully, for while he was still staying with Father
O'Connor, he had begun to jot down lines and by October of that year
the poem was published. One might fill a book with the tributes it
has received from that day to this. Perhaps none pleased him more
than a note from John Buchan (June 21, 1915): "The other day in the
trenches we shouted your Lepanto."

_The Victorian Age in Literature_ made many of his admirers again
express the wish that he would stay in the field of pure literature.
His characterisations of some of the Victorian writers were sheer

   Ruskin had a strong right hand that wrote of the great mediaeval
   Minsters in tall harmonies and traceries as splendid as their own;
   and also, so to speak, a weak and feverish left hand that was always
   fidgeting and trying to take the pen away--and write an evangelical
   tract about the immorality of foreigners . . . it is not quite unfair
   to say of him that he seemed to want all parts of the Cathedral
   except the altar.

   Tennyson was a provincial Virgil . . . he tried to have the
   universal balance of all the ideas at which the great Roman had
   aimed: but he hadn't got hold of all the ideas to balance. Hence his
   work was not a balance of truths, like the universe. It was a balance
   of whims; like the British Constitution . . . he could not think up
   to the height of his own towering style.

   . . . while Emily Bronte was as unsociable as a storm at midnight
   and while Charlotte Bronte was at best like that warmer and more
   domestic thing a house on fire--they do connect themselves with the
   calm of George Eliot, as the forerunners of many later developments
   of the feminine advance. Many forerunners (if it comes to that) would
   have felt rather ill if they had seen the things they foreran.

The best and most profound part of the book was however the working
out of certain generalisations--the effect on the literature of the
period of the Victorian compromise between religion and rationalism
("Macaulay, it is said, never talked about his religion: but Huxley
was always talking about the religion he hadn't got"): the break-up
of the compromise when Victorian Protestantism and Victorian
rationalism simultaneously destroyed one another; the uniqueness of
the nonsense-writing of the later Victorian period.

In one illuminating passage Chesterton defends what seems at first
sight merely his own habit of getting dates and events in their wrong

   The mind moves by instincts, associations, premonitions and not by
   fixed dates, or completed processes. Action and reaction will occur
   simultaneously: or the cause actually be found after the effect.
   Errors will be resisted before they have been properly promulgated:
   notions will be first defined long after they are dead . . . thus
   Wordsworth shrank back into Toryism, as it were, from a Shelleyan
   extreme of pantheism as yet disembodied. Thus Newman took down the
   iron sword of dogma to parry a blow not yet delivered, that was
   coming from the club of Darwin. For this reason no one can understand
   tradition or even history who has not some tenderness for anachronism.

This was not merely special pleading: it contains a profound truth.
Wilfrid Ward proved it of Newman in the biography that G.K. had
probably just been reading. Chesterton noted it himself in his book
on Cobbett who, as he said, saw what was not yet there. It is almost
the definition of genius. Already at this date Chesterton and Belloc
were fighting much that to the rest of us only became fully apparent
long afterwards.

"I think you would make a very good God," wrote E. V. Lucas to
Chesterton. There is indeed something divine in an almost ceaseless
outpouring of creative energy. But only God can create tirelessly and
Chesterton was at this time beginning to be tired. You can see it in
_The Flying Inn_. The book is still full of vitality and the lyrics
in it, later published separately under the title _Wine, Water and
Song_, are as good in that kind as any that he ever wrote. But
with all its vigour the book is a less joyful one than _Manalive_
and it is a much more angry one. _Manalive_ was a paean of joy to
life. _The Flying Inn_ is fighting for something necessary to its

It must have been just while he was writing it that there were
threatenings of a case against him by Lever Brothers on account of a
lecture given at the City Temple on "The Snob as Socialist." In
answering a question he spoke of Port Sunlight as "corresponding to a
Slave Compound." Others besides Lever Brothers were shocked and some
clarification was certainly called for. Belloc and Chesterton meant
by Slavery not that the poor were being bullied or ill treated but
that they had lost their liberty. Gilbert went so far as to point out
how much there was to be said in defence of a Slave state. Under
Slavery the poor were usually fed, clothed and housed adequately.
Slaves had often been much more comfortable in the past than were
free men in the world of today. A model employer might by his
regulations greatly increase the comfort of his workers and yet
enslave them.

A letter from Bernard Shaw advising him to get up certain details
asks the question of whether the workman at Port Sunlight would
forfeit his benefits and savings should he leave. "If this is so,"
wrote Shaw, "then, though Lever may treat him as well as Pickwick
would no doubt have treated old Weller, if he had consented to take
charge of his savings, Lever is master of his employee's fate, and
captain of his employee's soul, which is slavery." He went on to
offer financial help in fighting the case. The "Christian Commonweal"
had reported Chesterton's speech and was also threatened with the
law. To the editor G. K. wrote:

   Only a hasty line to elongate the telephone. I am sorry about this
   business for one reason only; and that is that you should be even
   indirectly mixed up in it. Lever can sue me till he bursts: I'm not
   afraid of him. But it does seem a shame when I've often attacked you
   (always in good faith and what was meant for good humour), and when
   you've heaped coals of fire by printing my most provocative words,
   that your chivalry should get you even bothered about it. I am truly
   sorry and ask pardon--of you, but not of old Sun and Soapsuds, I can
   tell you.

   Another very hasty line about the way I shall, if necessary,
   answer; about which I feel pretty confident. I should say it is
   absurd to have libel actions about Controversies, instead of about
   quarrels. It would mean every Capitalist being prosecuted for saying
   that Socialism is robbery and every Socialist for saying property is
   theft. By great luck, the example lies at the threshold of the
   passage quoted. The worst I said of Port Sunlight was that it was a
   slave-compound. Why, that was the very phrase about which half the
   governing class argued with the other half a few years ago! Are all
   who called the Chinese slaves to be sued by all who didn't? Am I
   prosecuted for a terminology . . . enough, you know the rest. Go on
   with the passage and you will see the luck continues. Abrupt, brief,
   and perhaps abbreviated as my platform answer was, it really does
   contain all the safeguards against imputing cruelty or human crime to
   poor Lever. It defines slavery as the imposition of the master's
   private morality; as in the matter of the pubs. It expressly suggests
   it does not imply cruelty: for it goes out of its way to say that
   such slaves may be better off under such slavery. So they were,
   physically, both in Athens and Carolina. It then says that a merely
   mystical thing, which I think is Christianity, makes me think this
   slavery damnable, even if it is comfortable. I would defend all this,
   as a lawful sociological comment, in any Court in civilisation.

   I tell you my line of defence, to use discreetly and at your
   discretion. If the other side are bent on fighting, I should reserve
   the defence. If they seem open to reason, I should point out that it
   is on our side.

His old schoolfellow Salter was also his solicitor and a letter to
Wells shows in part the advice Salter gave.


   I am asked to make a suggestion to you that looks like, and indeed
   is, infernal impudence: but which a further examination will rob of
   most of its terrors. Let not these terrors be redoubled when I say
   that the request comes from my solicitor. It is a great lark; I am
   writing for him when he ought to be writing for me.

   In the forthcoming case of Lever v. Chesterton & Another, the
   Defendant Chesterton will conduct his own case; as his heart is not,
   like that of the lady in the song, Another's. He wants to fight it
   purely as a point of the liberty of letters and public speech; and to
   show that the phrase "slavery" (wherein I am brought in question) is
   current in the educated controversy about the tendency of Capitalism
   today. The solicitor, rather to my surprise, approves this general
   sociological line of defence; and says that I may be allowed one or
   two witnesses of weight and sociological standing--not (of course) to
   say my words are defensible, still less that my view is right--but
   simply to say that the Servile State, and Servile terms in connection
   with it, are known to them as parts of a current and quite
   unmalicious controversy. He has suggested your name: and when I have
   written this I have done my duty to him. You could not, by the laws
   of evidence, be asked to mix yourself up with my remarks on Lever:
   you could only be asked, if at all, whether there was or was not a
   disinterested school of sociology holding that Capitalism is close to
   Slavery--quite apart from anybody. Do you care to come and see the

   Yours always,


The suggested line was so successful that Wells's testimony was not
called for. The case was withdrawn. No apology was even asked from
Gilbert, whose solicitor tells me that Messrs. Lever "behaved very
reasonably when once it was made clear to them that Gilbert was not
a scurrilous person making a vulgar and slanderous attack upon their

With H. G. Wells as with Shaw, Gilbert's relations were exceedingly
cordial, but with a cordiality occasionally threatened by explosions
from Wells. Gilbert's soft answer however invariably turned away
wrath and all was well again. "No one," Wells said to me, "ever had
enmity for him except some literary men who did not know him." They
met first, Wells thinks, at the Hubert Blands, and then Gilbert
stayed with Wells at Easton. There they played at the non-existent
game of Gype and invented elaborate rules for it. Cecil came too and
they played the War game Wells had invented. "Cecil," says Wells,
comparing him with Gilbert, "seemed condensed: not quite big enough
for a real Chesterton."

They built too a toy theatre at Easton and among other things
dramatized the minority report of the Poor Law Commission. The play
began by the Commissioners taking to pieces Bumble the Beadle,
putting him into a huge cauldron and stewing him. Then out from the
cauldron leaped a renewed rejuvenated Bumble several sizes larger
than when he went in.

In the early days of their acquaintance Wells remembers meeting the
whole Chesterton family in the street of a French town and inviting
them to lunch. His own youngest son, a small boy, had left the room
for a moment when Wells exclaimed: "Where's Frank? Good God, Gilbert,
you're sitting on him."

The anxious way in which Gilbert got up and turned apologetically
towards his own chair was unforgettable. An absent-minded man who in
a gesture of politeness once gave his seat to three ladies in a bus
might well be alarmed over the fate of a small boy found under him.

In his memoirs Wells relates another pleasing story of a
Chestertonian encounter:

   I once saw [Henry] James quarrelling with his brother William
   James, the psychologist. He had lost his calm; he was terribly
   unnerved. He appealed to me, to me of all people, to adjudicate on
   what was and what was not permissible in England. William was arguing
   about it in an indisputably American accent, with an indecently naked
   reasonableness. I had come to Rye with a car to fetch William James
   and his daughter to my home at Sandgate. William had none of Henry's
   passionate regard for the polish upon the surface of life and he was
   immensely excited by the fact that in the little Rye inn, which had
   its garden just over the high brick wall of the garden of Lamb House,
   G. K. Chesterton was staying. William James had corresponded with our
   vast contemporary and he sorely wanted to see him. So with a
   scandalous directness he had put the gardener's ladder against that
   ripe red wall and clambered up and peeped over!

   Henry had caught him at it. It was the sort of thing that isn't
   done. It was most emphatically the sort of thing that isn't
   done. . . . Henry instructed the gardener to put away that ladder and
   William was looking thoroughly naughty about it.

   To Henry's manifest relief, I carried William off and in the road
   just outside the town we ran against the Chestertons who had been for
   a drive in Romney Marsh; Chesterton was heated and I think rather
   swollen by the sunshine; he seemed to overhang his one-horse fly; he
   descended slowly but firmly; he was moist and steamy but cordial; we
   chatted in the road and William got his coveted impression.

The two must have suited each other a good deal better than
Chesterton and the more conventional brother. Of Henry's reactions
there was a comment from the other side of the Atlantic.

The _Louisville Post_ reported that Henry James, being asked on a
visit to his native country, "What do you think of Chesterton in
England?" replied "In England we do not think of Chesterton." The
_Post_ commented rather neatly "This 'we' of our compatriot must be
considered as either mythical or editorial--unless indeed it refers
to that small and exquisite circle which immediately surrounds and
envelopes him." In his _Autobiography_ Gilbert is appreciative but
amusing, describing Henry James's reactions to the arrival of Belloc
from a walking tour unbrushed, unwashed and unshaven. After reading
_Dickens_, William wrote from Cambridge, Mass.:

   O, Chesterton, but you're a darling! I've just read your
   Dickens--it's as good as Rabelais. Thanks!

Wells, asked to debate with Gilbert, wrote to Frances:

   Spade House, Sandgate. (undated)


   God forbid that I should seem a pig [here a small pig is drawn] and
   indeed I am not and of all the joys in life nothing would delight me
   more than a controversy with G.K.C., whom indeed I adore. [Here is
   drawn a tiny Wells adoring a vast Chesterton.]

   But--I have been recklessly promising all and everyone who asks me to
   lecture or debate; "If ever I do so again it will be for you," and if
   once I break the vow I took last year--

   Also we are really quite in agreement. It's a mere difference in
   fundamental theory which doesn't really matter a rap--except for
   after dinner purposes.

   Yours ever,

   H. G. Wells.

Frances thought Wells was good for Gilbert, he tells me, because he
took him out walking, but when the two men were alone Gilbert would
say supplicatingly "We won't go for a walk today, will we?" "He
thought it terrifying," said Wells, "the way my wife tidied up."
Frances, too, tidied up, but cautiously. "She prevented G.K.," says
Wells, "from becoming too physically gross. He ought not to have been
allowed to use the word 'jolly' more than forty times a day."

He could not, Wells thought, have gone on living in a London which
was that of ordinary social life, whether Mayfair or Bloomsbury.
"Either the country or Dr. Johnson's London." And of the relation
seen by Chesterton between liberty and conviviality he said, "Every
time he lifted a glass of wine he lifted it against Cadbury."

In spite of growing restrictions as to sales and hours the Inn still
remained for Chesterton a symbol of freedom in a world increasingly
enslaved. It was pointed out to him how great a peril lay in drink,
how homes were broken up and families destroyed through drunkenness.
After the war began, a letter from one of his readers stressed a real

   Now I do beg you, Mr. Chesterton, much as you love writing in
   praise of drink, to give it a rest during the war. . . . You may have
   the degradation of any number of silly boys to your account without
   knowing it. . . .

   I have written with a freedom--you will say perhaps rudeness--which
   a casual meeting with you, and a great admiration for your work by no
   means justifies, but which other things perhaps do. I beg you to
   forgive me.

It seems to me that this charge he never quite answered. To claim
liberty is one thing, to hymn the glories of wine is quite another.
And when he was attacked for the latter he always defended the
former, saying that he did not deny the peril but that all freedom
meant peril--peril must be preferred to slavery. There were things in
which a man must be free to choose even if his choice be evil. This
was a part of Chesterton's whole philosophy about drink--a subject on
which he wrote constantly. It is interesting to note the stages of
its development in his mind.

The Chesterton family had not a Puritan tradition in the sense of
being teetotal. But Lucian Oldershaw tells me that in their boyhood
he always felt G.K. himself to be a bit of a Puritan and I have come
upon a boyish poem that seems to confirm this in the matter of wine.


   Raised high on tripod, flashing bright, the Holy Silver Urn
   Within whose inmost cavern dark, the secret waters burn
   Before the temple's gateway the subject tea-cups bow
   And pass it steaming with thy gift, thy brown autumnal glow.
   Within thy silver fortress, the tea-leaf treasure piled
   O'er which the fiery fountain pours its waters undefiled
   Till the witch-water steals away the essence they enfold
   And dashes from the yawning spout a torrent-arch of gold.
   Then fill an honest cup my lads and quaff the draught amain
   And lay the earthen goblet down, and fill it yet again
   Nor heed the curses on the cup that rise from Folly's school
   The sneering of the drunkard and the warning of the fool.

   *   *   *

   Leave to the Stuart's cavalier the revel's blood-red wine
   To hiccup out a tyrant's health and swear his Right Divine
   Mine, Cromwell's* cup to stir within, the spirit cool and sure
   To face another Star Chamber, a second Marston Moor.
   Leave to the genius-scorner, the sot's soul-slaying urns
   That stained the fame of Addison, and wrecked the life of Burns
   For Etty's hand his private Pot, that for no waiter waits**
   For Cowper's lips his "Cup that cheers but not inebriates."

   Goal of Infantine Hope, Unknown, mystic Felicity
   Sangrael of childish quest much sought, aethereal "Real Tea"
   Thy faintest tint of yellow on the milk and water pale
   Like Midas' stain on Pactolus, gives joy that cannot fail.

[* Cromwell's teapot was among the first used in England.]

[** Etty, the artist made his own tea in all hotels in a private pot.]

Childhood's "May I have _real_ tea" had grown into the tea-table of
the Junior Debating Club, and Lucian Oldershaw remembers Gilbert as a
young man still lunching at tea shops. I found recently two versions
of a fragment of a story called "The Human Club," written when he was
at the Slade School. The second version opens:

   A meal was spread on the table, for the members of the Human Club
   were, as their name implies, human, however glorified and
   transformed: the meal, however, consisted principally of tea and
   coffee, for the Humans were total abstainers, not with the virulent
   assertion of a negative formula, but as an enlightened ratification
   of a profound social effort (hear, hear), not as the meaningless
   idolatry (cheers) of an isolated nostrum (renewed cheers), but as a
   chivalrous sacrifice for the triumph of a civic morality (prolonged
   cheers and uproar).

   The aims of the Human Club were many but among the more practical
   and immediate was the entire perfection of everything.

   "Perfection is impossible," said the host, Eric Peterson, bowing
   his colossal proportions over the coffee-pot. He was in the habit of
   showing these abrupt rifts of his train of thought, like gigantic
   fragments of a frieze. But he said then quite simply, with no change
   in his bleak blue eyes, "perfection is impossible, thank God. The
   impossible is the eternal."

We are a long way from tea the "Oriental," cocoa the "vulgar
beast," and wine the true festivity of man that we find in _Wine,
Water and Song_. Chesterton had meanwhile discovered the
wine-drinking peasants of France and Italy: he had discovered what
were left of the old-fashioned inns of England where cider or beer
are drunk by the sort of Englishmen he had come to love best--the
poor. In his revolt against that dreary and pretentious element that
he most hated in the middle classes he had come to feel that the life
of the poor, as they themselves had shaped it when they were free
men, was the ideal. And that ideal included moderate drinking,
drinking to express joy in life and to increase it.

Already in _Heretics_ (1904) he had in the essay called "Omar and the
Sacred Vine" attacked the evil of pessimistic drinking. A man should
never drink because he is miserable, he will be wise to avoid drink
as a medicine for, health being a normal thing, he will tend in
search of it to drink too much. But no man expects pleasure all the
time, so if he drinks for pleasure the danger of excess is less.

   The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other
   rules--a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you
   are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you
   will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when
   you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing
   peasants of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is
   rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because
   you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient
   health of the world.*

[* _Heretics_. John Lane, chapter VII, p. 103.]

But the human will must be brought into action and the gifts of God
must be taken with the thanksgiving that is restraint. "We must thank
God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them." The
topic seemed to fascinate him; he returned to it again and again. In
one essay he described himself opening all the windows in a private
bar to get rid of the air of secrecy that he hated. Wine should be
taken, not secretly but

   Frankly and in fellowship As men in inns do dine.

Cocktails he abominated--and in fact strong spirits were almost as
evil as wine and beer were good. In an essay "The Cowardice of
Cocktails"* he is especially scathing in his comment on those who
urge "that they give a man an appetite for his meals."

[* From _Sidelights on New London & Newer York,_ p. 45.]

   This is unworthy of a generation that is always claiming to be
   candid and courageous. In the second aspect, it is utterly unworthy
   of a generation that claims to keep itself fit by tennis and golf and
   all sorts of athletics. What are these athletes worth if, after all
   their athletics, they cannot scratch up such a thing as a natural
   appetite? Most of my own work is, I will not venture to say,
   literary, but at least sedentary. I never do anything except walk
   about and throw clubs and javelins in the garden. But I never require
   anything to give me an appetite for a meal. I never yet needed a tot
   of rum to help me to go over the top and face the mortal perils of

   Quite rationally considered, there has been a decline and
   degradation in these things. First came the old drinking days which
   are always described as much more healthy. In those days men worked
   or played, hunted or herded or ploughed or fished, or even, in their
   rude way, wrote or spoke, if only expressing the simple minds of
   Socrates or Shakespeare, and _then_ got reasonably drunk in the
   evening when their work was done. We find the first step of the
   degradation, when men do not drink when their work is done, but drink
   in order to do their work. Workmen used to wait in queues outside the
   factories of forty years ago, to drink nips of neat whisky to enable
   them to face life in the progressive and scientific factory. But at
   least it may be admitted that life in the factory was something that
   it took some courage to face. These men felt they had to take an
   anaesthetic before they could face pain. What are we to say of those
   who have to take an anaesthetic before they can face pleasure? What
   of those, who when faced with the terrors of mayonnaise eggs or
   sardines, can only utter a faint cry for brandy? What of those who
   have to be drugged, maddened, inspired and intoxicated to the point
   of partaking of meals, like the Assassins to the point of committing
   murders? If, as they say, the use of the drug means the increase of
   the dose, where will it stop, and at what precise point of frenzy and
   delusion will a healthy grown-up man be ready to rush headlong upon a
   cutlet or make a dash for death or glory at a ham-sandwich? This is
   obviously the most abject stage of all; worse than that of the man
   who drinks for the sake of work, and much worse than that of the man
   who drinks for the sake of play.

Wine, Chesterton maintained, should not be drunk as an aid to
creative production, yet one may find that increased power of
creation sometimes follows in its wake. And here of course was a
danger to a man who worked as hard as Chesterton. He sometimes spoke
of himself as "idle," but I think it would be hard to match either
his output or his hours of creative work. I remember one visit that I
paid to Beaconsfield when he was writing one of his major books. He
was in his study by 10 in the morning, emerged for lunch at 1 and went
back from about 2:30 to 4:30. After tea he worked again until a 7:30
dinner. His wife and I went to bed about 10:30 leaving him preparing
his material for the next day. Towards 1 A.M. a ponderous tread as he
passed my door on his way to bed woke me to a general impression of
an earthquake.

In a passage in _Magic_ G.K. makes his hero say, "I happen to have
what is called a strong head and I have never been really drunk." It
was true of himself, but in these years just before the Great War,
before his own severe illness, intimate friends have told me that
they had seen him unlike himself, that they felt he had come to
depend, "almost absent-mindedly" one said, on the stimulus of wine
for the sheer physical power to pour forth so much.

Besides overwork G.K. was in these years mentally oppressed by the
strain of the Marconi Case, and then almost overwhelmed by the horror
of the World War. A man very tender of heart, sensitive and intensely
imaginative, he could not react as calmly as Cecil himself did to
what both believed the probability of the latter's imprisonment. And
when that strain was removed there remained the stain on national
honour, the opening gulf into which he saw his country falling. To
him the Marconi Case was a heavier burden than the war. For, as he
saw it, in the Marconi Case the nation was wrong in enduring
corruption and in the war the nation was magnificently right in
resisting tyranny.

So Chesterton felt, yet the outbreak of the war with all its human
suffering to mind and body weighed heavily upon him too. He wrote
_The Barbarism of Berlin_ of which I will say something in the next
chapter--for it belongs to those writings of the war period the
series of which is so consistent that in his _Autobiography_ he was
able to claim that he had no sympathy "with the rather weak-minded
reaction that is going on round us. At the first outbreak of the War
I attended the conference of all the English men of letters, called
together to compose a reply to the manifesto of the German
professors. I at least among all those writers can say, 'What I have
written I have written.'"

Then his illness came upon him. Dr. Pocock, coming for a first visit,
found the bed partly broken under the weight of the patient who was
lying in a grotesquely awkward position, his hips higher than his

"You must be horribly uncomfortable," he said.

"Why, now you mention it," said G.K., like a man receiving a new
idea, "I suppose I am."

The doctor ordered a water-bed, and almost the last words he heard
before the patient sank into coma were, "I wonder if this bally ship
will ever get to shore."

The illness lasted several months. We can follow its progress (and
his) in extracts from letters* written to Father O'Connor by Frances:

   Nov. 25th, 1914. You must pray for him. He is seriously ill and I
   have two nurses. It is mostly heart-trouble, but there are
   complications. He is quite his normal self, as to head and brain, and
   he even dictates and reads a great deal.

   Dec. 29th, 1914. Gilbert had a bad relapse on Christmas Eve, and
   now is being desperately ill. He is not often conscious, and is so
   weak--I feel he might ask for you--if so I shall wire. Dr. is still
   hopeful, but I feel in despair.

   Jan. 3rd, 1915. If you came he would not know you, and this
   condition may last some time. The brain is dormant, and must be kept
   so. If he is sufficiently conscious at any moment to understand, I
   will ask him to let you come--or will send on my own responsibility.
   Pray for his soul and mine.

   Jan. 7th, 1915. Gilbert seemed decidedly clearer yesterday, and
   though not quite so well today the doctor says he has reason to hope
   the mental trouble is working off. His heart is stronger, and he is
   able to take plenty of nourishment. Under the circumstances therefore
   I am hoping and praying he may soon be sufficiently himself to tell
   us what he wants done. I am dreadfully unhappy at not knowing how he
   would wish me to act. His parents would never forgive me if I acted
   only on my own authority. I do pray to God He will restore him to
   himself that we may know. I feel in His mercy He will, even if death
   is the end of it--or the beginning shall I say?

   Jan. 12th, 1915. He is really better I believe and by the mercy of
   God I dare hope he is to be restored to us. Physically he is
   stronger, and the brain is beginning to work normally, and soon I
   trust we shall be able to ask him his wishes with regard to the
   Church. I am so thankful to think that we can get at his desire.

In January 1915 Frances wrote to my mother: "Gilbert remains much the
same in a semi-conscious condition--sleeping a great deal. I feel
absolutely hopeless; it seems impossible it can go on like this. The
impossibility of reaching him is too terrible an experience and I
don't know how to go through with it. I pray for strength and you
must pray for me."

"Dearest Josephine," she wrote in a later undated letter, "Gilbert is
today a little better, after being practically at a standstill for
the past week. He asked for me today, which is a great advance, and
hugged me. I feel like Elijah (wasn't it?) and shall go in the
strength of that hug forty days. The recovery will be very slow, the
doctors tell me, and we have to prevent his using his brain at all."

In this letter she begged to see my mother, and I remember when they
met she told her that one day she had tried to test whether Gilbert
was conscious by asking him, "Who is looking after you?" "He answered
very gravely, 'God' and I felt so small," she said. Presently Frances
told my mother that Gilbert had talked to her about coming into the
Catholic Church. It was just at this time that she wrote to tell
Father O'Connor that Gilbert said to her "Did you think I was going
to die?" and followed this with the question, "Does Father O'Connor
know?" After her conversation with my mother Frances wrote to her:

   March 21

   I think I would rather you did not tell anyone just yet of what I
   told you regarding my husband and the Catholic Church. Not that I
   doubt for a moment that he meant it and knew what he was saying and
   was relieved at saying it, but I don't want the world at large to be
   able to say that he came to this decision, when he was weak and
   unlike himself. He will ratify it no doubt when his complete manhood
   is restored. I know it was not weakness that made him say it, but you
   will understand my scruples. I know in God's good time he will make
   his confession of faith--and if death comes near him again I shall
   know how to act.

   Thanks for all your sympathy. I _did_ enjoy seeing you.

On Easter Eve Frances wrote two letters, one to Father O'Connor, one
to my mother. To Father O'Connor she said:

   All goes well here, though still very very slowly--G's mind is
   gradually clearing, but it is still difficult to him to distinguish
   between the real and the unreal. I am quite sure he will soon be able
   to think and act for himself, but I dare not hurry matters at all. I
   have told him I am writing to you often and he said, "That is
   right--I'll see him soon. I want to talk to him." He wanders at
   times, but the clear intervals are longer. He repeated the Creed last
   night, this time in English.

To my mother:

   I feel the enormous significance of the resurrection of the body
   when I think of my dear husband, just consciously laying hold of life
   again. Indeed, I will pray that your dear ones may be kept in safety.
   God bless you for all your sympathy. I am so glad that Gilbert's
   decision (for I am sure it was a decision) has made you so happy. I
   dare not hurry anything, the least little excitement upsets him--last
   night he said the Creed and asked me to read parts of Myers' "St.
   Paul." He still wanders a good deal when tired but is certainly a
   little stronger. Love and Easter blessings to you all.

We ourselves were passing then through the shadow of death. Almost as
Gilbert rose again to this life my father passed into life eternal.
One of the very few letters I possess in Gilbert's own handwriting
was also one of the first he wrote on recovery. It was to my mother:

   I fear I have delayed writing to you, and partly with a vague
   feeling that I might so find some way of saying what I feel on your
   behalf and others'; and of course it has not come. Somewhat of what
   the world and a wider circle of friends have lost I shall try to say
   in the _Dublin Review_, by the kindness of Monsignor Barnes, who has
   invited me to contribute to it; but of all I feel, and Frances feels,
   and of the happy times we have had in your house, I despair of saying
   anything at all.

   I can only hope you and yours will be able to read between the
   lines of what I write either here or there; and understand that the
   simultaneous losses of a good friend and a fine intellect have a way
   of stunning rather than helping the expression of either. I would say
   I am glad he lived to see what I feel to be a rebirth of England, if
   his mere presence in an older generation did not prove to me that
   England never died.

This sense of the rebirth of England gave to Gilbert's restored life
a special quality of triumph that abode down to the end of the war.


The War Years

GILBERT WAS TAKING up life again and with it the old friendships and
the old debates, in the new atmosphere created by the war.

To Bernard Shaw he wrote:

   June 12th, 1915


   I ought to have written to you a long time ago, to thank you for
   your kind letter which I received when I had recovered and still more
   for many other kindnesses that seem to have come from you during the
   time before the recovery. I am not a vegetarian; and I am only in a
   very comparative sense a skeleton. Indeed I am afraid you must
   reconcile yourself to the dismal prospect of my being more or less
   like what I was before; and any resumption of my ordinary habits must
   necessarily include the habit of disagreeing with you. What and where
   and when is "Uncommon Sense about the War?" How can I get hold of it?
   I do not merely ask as one hungry for hostilities, but also as one
   unusually hungry for good literature. "Il me faut des géants," as
   Cyrano says; so I naturally wish to hear the last about you. You
   probably know that I do not agree with you about the War; I do not
   think it is going on of its own momentum; I think it is going on in
   accordance with that logical paradox whereby the thing that is most
   difficult to do is also the thing that must be done. If it were an
   easy war to end it would have been a wicked war to begin. If a cat
   has nine lives one must kill it nine times, saving your humanitarian
   feelings, and always supposing it is a witch's cat and really draws
   its powers from Hell. I have always thought that there was in Prussia
   an evil will; I would not have made it a ground for going to war, but
   I was quite sure of it long before there was any war at all. But I
   suppose we shall some day have an opportunity of arguing about all
   that. Meanwhile my thanks and good wishes are as sincere as my
   opinions; and I do not think those are insincere.

   Yours always sincerely,


Bernard Shaw replied:

   22nd June 1915


   I am delighted to learn under your own hand that you have recovered
   all your health and powers with an unimpaired figure. You have also
   the gratification of knowing that you have carried out a theory of
   mine that every man of genius has a critical illness at 40, Nature's
   object being to make him go to bed for several months. Sometimes
   Nature overdoes it: Schiller and Mozart died. Goethe survived, though
   he very nearly followed Schiller into the shades. I did the thing
   myself quite handsomely by spending eighteen months on crutches,
   having two surgical operations, and breaking my arm. I distinctly
   noticed that instead of my recuperation beginning when my breakdown
   ended, it began before that. The ascending curve cut through the tail
   of the descending one; and I was consummating my collapse and rising
   for my next flight simultaneously.

   It is perfectly useless for you to try to differ with me about the
   war. NOBODY can differ with me about the war: you might as well
   differ from the Almighty about the orbit of the sun. I have got the
   war right; and to that complexion, you too must come at last, your
   nature not being a fundamentally erroneous one.

   At the same time, it is a great pity you were not born in Ireland.
   You would have had the advantage of hearing the burning patriotism of
   your native land expressing itself by saying exactly the same things
   about England that English patriotism now says about Prussia, and of
   recognizing that though they were entirely true, they were also a
   very great nuisance, as they prevented people from building the
   future by conscientious thought. Also, Cecil would have seen what the
   Catholic Church is really like when the apostolic succession falls to
   the farmer's son who is cleverer with school books than with
   agricultural implements. In fact you would have learned a devil of a
   lot of things for lack of which you often drive me to exclaim
   "Gilbert, Gilbert, why persecutest thou me."

   As to the evil will, of course there is an evil will in Prussia.
   Prussia isn't Paradise. I have been fighting that evil will, in
   myself and others, all my life. It is the will of the brave Barabbas,
   and of the militant Nationalists who admired him and crucified the
   pro-Gentile. But the Prussians must save their own souls. They also
   have their Shaws and Chestertons and a divine spark in them for these
   to work on. . . . What we have to do is to make ridiculous the cry of
   "Vengeance is mine, saith Podsnap," and, whenever anyone tells an
   Englishman a lie, to explain to the poor devil that it is a lie, and
   that he must stop cheering it as a splendid speech. For an Englishman
   never compares speeches either with facts or with previous speeches:
   to him a speech is art for art's sake, the disciples of our favoured
   politicians being really, if they only knew it, disciples of
   Whistler. Also, and equally important, we have to bear in mind that
   the English genius does not, like the German, lie in disciplined
   idealism. The Englishman is an Anarchist and a grumbler: he has no
   such word as Fatherland, and the idea which he supposes corresponds
   to it is nothing but the swing of a roaring chorus to a patriotic
   song. Also he is a muddler and a slacker, because tense and
   continuous work means thought; and he is lazy and fat in the head.
   But as long as he is himself, and grumbles, it does not matter. Given
   a furious Opposition screaming for the disgrace of tyrannical and
   corrupt ministers, and a press on the very verge of inviting Napoleon
   to enter London in triumph and deliver a groaning land from the
   intolerable burden of its native rulers' incapacity and rapacity and
   obsolescence, and the departments will work as well as the enemy's
   departments (perhaps better), and the government will have to keep
   its wits at full pressure. But once let England try what she is
   trying now: that is, to combine the devoted silence and obedience of
   the German system with the slack and muddle of Coodle and Doodle, and
   we are lost. Unless you keep up as hot a fire from your ink-bottle on
   the Government as the soldier keeps up from the trenches you are
   betraying that soldier. Of course they will call you a pro-German.
   What of that? They call ME a pro-German. We also must stand fire. As
   Peer Gynt said of hell, if the torture is only moral, it cannot be so
   very bad.

   I grieve to say that some fool has stolen my title, and issued a
   two page pamphlet called Uncommon Sense about the War. So I shall
   have to call mine More Common Sense About the War. It is not yet in
   type: I haven't yet quite settled its destination. Any chance of
   seeing you both if we drive over from Ayot to Beaconsfield some
   Sunday or other afternoon.

   Yours ever,


Wells too was rejoicing over his recovery--


   I'm so delighted to get a letter from you again. As soon as I can I
   will come to Beaconsfield and see you. I'm absurdly busy in bringing
   together the Rulers of the country and the scientific people of whom
   they are totally ignorant. Lloyd George has never heard of
   Ramsey--and so on, and the hash and muddle and quackery on our
   technical side is appalling. It all means boys' lives in Flanders and
   horrible waste and suffering. Well, anyhow if we've got only obscure
   and cramped and underpaid scientific men we have a bench of fine fat
   bishops and no end of tremendous lawyers. One of the best ideas for
   the Ypres position came from Robert Mond but the execution was too
   difficult for our officers to attempt. So we've got a row of wounded
   and mangled men that would reach from Beaconsfield to Great
   Marlow--just to show we don't take stock in these damned scientific

   Yours ever,


No one however mad could have called Gilbert a pro-German: it was
perhaps the only accusation the _New Witness_ escaped. But while he
largely agreed with Shaw's analysis of the Englishman as a natural
Anarchist and grumbler, while he believed in the voluntary principle
and disliked conscription, his general outlook was as different from
Shaw's as were the pamphlets they both wrote.

In a book addressed to a German professor G.K. frankly confessed the
real _Crimes of England_, for which she was now making reparation.

To any Englishman living in the native atmosphere the suggestion that
England had been preparing an aggression against Germany seemed more
than faintly ludicrous. We were not engaged in plotting in Europe--on
the contrary we were far too careless of Europe. And the funds of the
Liberal Party (which was in power) actually depended chiefly on
Quaker Millionaires who were noted pacifists and at whose bidding
national honour was jeopardised by our delay in declaring our support
of France. We were not prepared for war and probably only the shock
of the invasion of Belgium made certain our stand with France.

   . . . It may seem an idle contradiction to say that our strength in
   this war came from not being prepared. But there is a truth that
   cannot be otherwise expressed. The strongest thing in sane anger is
   surprise. If we had time to think we might have thought better--that
   is worse. Everything that could be instinctive managed to be strong;
   the instant fury of contempt with which the better spirit in our
   rulers flung back the Prussian bribe; the instant solidarity of all
   parties; above all, the brilliant instinct by which the Irish leader
   cast into the scale of a free Europe the ancient sword of Ireland.*

[* _The Uses of Diversity_.]

Our crimes were in the past, not the present. The first had been when
we gave aid to Prussia against Austria, Austria which was "not a
nation" but "a kind of Empire, a Holy Roman Empire that never came,"
which "still retained something of the old Catholic comfort for the
soul." We had helped to put Prussia instead of Austria at the head of
the Germanies--Prussia which in the person of Frederick the Great
"hated everything German and everything good." Francophile as
Chesterton was, he yet had a certain tenderness for those old
Germanies which "preserved the good things that go with small
interests and strict boundaries, music, etiquette, a dreamy
philosophy and so on."

Our next crimes had been in calling Prussia to our aid against
Napoleon and in failing to assist Denmark against her. And by far our
worst had been the using of Prussian mercenaries with their ghastly
tradition of cruelty in Ireland in the '98.

There is in this little book one drawback from the historian's point
of view: its view of the past is so oddly selective. Doubtless it is
lawful to examine your own nation's conscience as you do your
own--and not your neighbour's. Yet history should be rather an
examination of facts than an examination of conscience. And
historically Richelieu's policies had had quite something to say in
the creation of Prussia; the conscript armies of the French
Revolution had first made Europe into an armed camp. It was an undue
simplification to insist exclusively on The Crimes of England.

But even while he did so Chesterton rejoiced that now at long last
England was on the right side, on the side of Europe and of sanity.
The _New Witness_ group had always seen the issue as their countrymen
were now suddenly beginning to see it. They had no sympathy with the
"liberal" thinking, made in Germany, that had in the name of biblical
and historical criticism been undermining the bases of Christianity.
Their love of logic and of clarity had made German philosophy
intolerable to them--it was wind, and it was fog. Finally their love
of France had always made them conceive of Europe as centering in
that country. For them there was one profound satisfaction even amid
the horrors of war: that the issues were so clear.

But were they as clear to the whole world? If not they must be made

There were two main problems to be overcome in this matter, one of
which was less pronounced at the time than it became later--the
economic interpretation of history. Started by Karl Marx the idea that
all history can be interpreted solely by economic causes has come
since to have an extraordinary popularity even among those whose own
philosophy and sociology are most widely removed from Marx. It is a
view which Chesterton would always have dismissed with the contempt
it deserves. Both he and Belloc saw as the determining factor in
history, because it is the determining factor in human life, the free
will of man. This does not mean that they would deny that the
economic factor has often been powerful in conquering man's liberty,
or a motive in its exercise. But Chesterton regarded the present age
as a diseased one precisely because the money motive held so
disproportionate a place in it. He looked back to the past and saw
the world of today as almost unique in that respect. He looked
forward to the future and hoped for a release from it.

And as he looked back into the past he saw something in the history
of mankind far stronger than the economic motive--whether that mean
the strife for wealth or the mere struggle for subsistence. He saw
the all-pervading power of religion, which in bygone ages had
presided over man's activities and turned the exercise of that most
noble faculty free-will to the building of a civilization today
undreamed of.

But in 1914 it was easier to get away from the economic
interpretation of history than it was to overcome another difficulty
in the minds of those who had not the Chesterton vision of Europe,
and to whom it seemed that in a war between nations it was extremely
likely that all parties were more or less equally to blame.
"History," said Chesterton, "tends to be a façade of faded
picturesqueness for most of those who have not specially studied it:
a more or less monochrome background for the drama of their own day."
But the nature of that background and the vision of today's drama
will vary with the varying angle of historic vision.

There were two possible meanings for the statement that all nations
were to blame for the world war. All nations had gone away from God.
Motives of personal and national greed had ousted the old ideal of
Christendom. It might roughly be said that no nation was seriously
trying to seek the Kingdom of God and His Justice. International
Finance had become a shadow resting on all the earth, and it could
not have got this power if Governments had been governing solely for
the good of their peoples. "Bow down your heads before God," is the
invocation constantly used in the Missal during the penitential
season of Lent and the government of every nation needed this call to

With this interpretation Chesterton would have agreed. All nations
were to blame for the predisposing causes that made a world-war
possible. But when we come to the question of actual responsibility
for making this particular war, the statement means something very
different and something with which Chesterton was prepared to join
issue. Against him those who disliked France or England, and saw the
history of those two countries as a history of Imperialism, were
saying: if Germany had not attacked France, France would have
attacked Germany; or: England would have been equally treacherous if
it had paid her--look at the Treaty of Limerick.

Chesterton kept imploring people simply to look at the facts. Germany
had in fact broken her word to France and attacked her. France had
not attacked Germany. Germany had invaded Belgium. England had not
invaded Holland "to seize a naval and commercial advantage; and
whether they say that we wished to do it in our greed or feared to do
it in our cowardice, the fact remains that we did not do it. Unless
this common-sense principle be kept in view, I cannot conceive how
any quarrel can possibly be judged. A contract may be made between
two persons solely for material advantage on each side: but the moral
advantage is still generally supposed to lie with the person who
keeps the contract."*

[* _The Barbarism of Berlin_, 15-16.]

The promise and the vow were fundamental to Chesterton's view of
human life. Discussing divorce he claims as essential to manhood the
right to bind oneself and to be taken at one's word. The marriage vow
was almost the only vow that remained out of the whole mediaeval
conception of chivalry and he could not endure to see it set at
nought. But even in the modern world there still remained some notion
of the sacredness of a solemn promise.

"It is plain that the promise, or extension of responsibility through
time, is what chiefly distinguishes us, I will not say from savages,
but from brutes and reptiles. This was noted by the shrewdness of the
Old Testament, when it summed up the dark, irresponsible enormity of
Leviathan in the words, 'Will he make a pact with thee?' . . . The
vow is to the man what the song is to the bird, or the bark to the
dog; his voice whereby he is known."* There were two chief marks
whereby it seemed to Chesterton that the Prussian invasion of Belgium
was fundamentally an attack on civilization. Contempt for a promise
was the first. He called it the war on the word.

[* Ibid., 32-33.]

The other mark of barbarism he called the refusal of reciprocity.
"The Prussians," he wrote, "had been told by their literary men that
everything depends upon Mood: and by their politicians that all
arrangements dissolve before 'necessity.'"* This was not merely a
contempt for the word but also an assumption that German necessity
was like no other necessity because the German "cannot get outside
the idea that he, because he is he and not you, is free to break the
law; and also to appeal to the law." Thus the Kaiser at once violated
the Hague Convention openly himself and wrote to the President of the
United States to complain that the Allies were violating it. "For
this principle of a quite unproved racial supremacy is the last and
worst of the refusals of reciprocity."**

[* Ibid., 37.]

[* Ibid., p. 60.]

If these two ideas were allowed to prevail they must destroy
civilization and so to Chesterton the war was a crusade and, to his
profound joy, was understood as such by the people of England. The
democratic spirit of our country "is rather unusually sluggish and
far below the surface. And the most genuine and purely popular
movement that we have had since the Chartists has been the enlistment
for this war." Chesterton loved the heroic humour of the trenches:
the cry of "Early Doors" from the boys rushing on death; the term
Blighty for England and congratulations on a severe wound as a "good
Blighty one"; the song under showers of bullets, "When It's Raining
Keep Your Umbrella Up." The English, he once said, had no religion
left except their sense of humour but I think he meant that they hung
out humour somewhat defiantly as a smoke-screen for other things.

Anyhow he doubted neither that the war was worth winning nor that it
could be won by our soldiers and sailors. And with the soldiers and
sailors stood the munition workers and the Trades Unions which had
sacrificed their cherished rights for the war period. If the only
danger to England was on the Home Front it was not, in his eyes, to
be found in the mass of the nation. Nor was he at first too
apprehensive of the actions of the Government. Asquith and Sir Edward
Grey might have been slow in declaring war but both were patriotic
Englishmen and with them stood with equal patriotism the mass of the
governing classes. If as has later been said the war had really been
brought about by English political and financial interests, it is
strange that Lord Desborough, head of the London house of J. P.
Morgan and a leading financier of England, should have lost his two
elder sons and the Prime Minister his eldest.

But the _New Witness_ did see two dangers at home which might
jeopardise the success of our armies in the field and bring about a
premature and dishonourable peace. These were international finance,
and the Press magnates.

Nothing so reminds me of how we were all feeling about the Daily
papers just then as finding this letter to E. C. Bentley (dated July
20, 1915):

   I was delighted to hear from you though very sorry to hear you have
   been bad. I mean physically bad; morally and intellectually you have
   evidently been very good. Seriously, I think you have done something
   to save this country; for the _Telegraph_ continues to be almost the
   only paper that the crisis has sobered and not tipsified. I take it
   in myself and know many others who do so. Part of the fun about
   'Armsworth is that quite a lot of old ladies of both sexes go about
   distinguishing elaborately between the _Daily Mail_ and the _Times_.*
   It is a stagnant state of mind created in people who have never been
   forced by revolution or other public peril to distinguish between the
   things they are used to and the thoughts for which the things are
   supposed to stand. If you printed the whole of Ally Sloper's Half
   Holiday and called it the Athenaeum, they would read it with unmoved
   faces. So long as St. Paul's Cathedral stood in the usual place they
   would not mind if there was a Crescent on top of it instead of a
   Cross. By the way, I see the Germans have actually done what I
   described as a wild fancy in the Flying Inn; combined the Cross and
   the Crescent in one ornamental symbol. . . .

[* Both these papers were then owned by the same man--Alfred
Harmsworth, who had become Lord Northcliffe.]

I am inclined to think that the attack upon Harmsworth which the _New
Witness_ developed attributed too much to purposed malice and did not
allow enough for the journalistic craving for news and for "scoops."
Probably some of the posters and articles to which they objected were
not the work of Lord Northcliffe but of some young journalist anxious
to sell his paper. Nevertheless the _New Witness_ attack was not only
largely justified but was also remarkably courageous. The staff of
the _New Witness_ were themselves journalists and men of letters. In
both capacities as powerful a newspaper owner as Lord Northcliffe
could damage them severely--and did. Never henceforward would any of
them be able to write in one of his numerous papers, never would one
of their books receive a favourable review. For Belloc did not
hesitate to call Lord Northcliffe a traitor for the way in which he
had attacked Kitchener, while Cecil amused himself by reviewing and
pointing out the illiteracy of that strange peer's own writing. Later
too when the Harmsworth papers were in full cry for the fall of
Asquith and the substitution of Lloyd George, the _New Witness_ took
a strong stand. They pointed out too the way in which censorship was
exercised against the smaller newspapers while the Northcliffe press
seemed immune. Here was the fundamental danger. Whatever the motive,
some of the attacks and articles printed were undoubtedly calculated,
in military language, to cause alarm and despondency. It was
appalling that in time of war this should be permitted; and, as they
saw it, permitted because the Harmsworth millions had been used to
secure a hold on certain politicians. To the _New Witness_ "George"
was simply Harmsworth's man.

Meanwhile at Easter, 1916, came the awful tragedy of the Irish
rising. Chesterton had fallen into the sleep of his long illness soon
after the splendid gesture in which Redmond had offered the sword of
Ireland to the allied cause. And there seems little doubt that in
making this offer Redmond had with him, for the last time, the people
of Ireland. Recruiting began well but that awful fate of stupidity
that seems to overtake every Englishman dealing with Ireland even now
was overwhelming the two countries. Sir Francis Vane, an Irish
officer in the British Army, described in a series of articles in the
_New Witness_ the blunders made in the recruiting campaign: such
things as prominent Protestant Unionists being brought to the fore,
national sentiment discouraged, waving of Union Jacks, appeals to
patriotism not for Ireland but for England.

Vane himself found his attempt at recruiting on national lines
unpopular with authority and in the midst of his successful effort
was recalled to England. Still, though recruiting slackened, the
cause of the Allies remained in Ireland the popular cause and the
Easter Rising was the work only of a handful of men. Its immediate
cause was the fact that although the Home Rule Bill had been passed
and was on the Statute Book its operation was again deferred. All
Irishmen saw this as a breach of faith yet the majority were not at
that time behind the rising. The severity of its repression turned
it almost overnight into a national cause and erected yet another
barrier against friendship between England and Ireland.

For this friendship Chesterton longed ardently and worked
passionately, nor did he believe the barriers insurmountable. He even
held that there was between the people of the two countries a natural
amity. "There is something common to all the Britons, which even
Acts of Union have not torn asunder. The nearest name for it is
insecurity, something fitting in men walking on cliffs and the verge
of things. Adventure, a lonely taste in liberty, a humour without
wit, perplex their critics and perplex themselves. Their souls are
fretted like their coasts."* The Irish and the English had suffered
oppression at the same hands--those of the rulers of England. If
Prussian soldiers had been used against Irish peasants, so too had
they been used against English Chartists. A typical Englishman,
William Cobbett, had suffered fine and long imprisonment because of
his protest against the flogging of an English soldier by a German

[* _A Short History of England_, p. 7.]

"Telling the truth about Ireland," wrote Chesterton, "is not very
pleasant to a patriotic Englishman; but it is very patriotic."* For
the lack of the essential patriotism of admitting past sin the rulers
of England were perpetuating an evil that many of them sincerely
desired to end. For this was a case where the right road could only
be found by retracing the steps of a long road of wrong.

[* _The Crimes of England_, p. 57.]

Before the end of the war G.K. visited Ireland and in the book that
he wrote after this visit may be found his best analysis of all this
matter. Ireland, he believed, was making a mistake in not throwing
herself into the cause of the defeat of Germany, not because she owed
anything to England but because of what Prussia was and of what
Europe meant. Ireland had been the friend of France and the enemy of
Prussia long before England had been either; she would do well to
hold to her ancient allegiance.

It was true that Ireland had been betrayed by the Liberal promise of
Home Rule--but the men who betrayed her were the Marconi men! Redmond
had made the great mistake of his career when from motives of
patriotism for Ireland he had helped the party hacks of the
Government Committee to whitewash these men, who had gone on to
betray Ireland as they were then betraying England. England too
needed Home Rule. England too needed deliverance from her "degenerate
and unworthy governing class."

There are a few pages in _Irish Impressions_--now out of print-which
find their place here in illustration of what he meant by his
championship of nationality:

   A brilliant writer . . . once propounded to me his highly personal
   and even perverse type of internationalism by saying, as a sort of
   unanswerable challenge, "Wouldn't you rather be ruled by Goethe than
   by Walter Long?" I replied that words could not express the wild love
   and loyalty I should feel for Mr. Walter Long, if the only
   alternative were Goethe. I could not have put my own national case in
   a clearer or more compact form. I might occasionally feel inclined to
   kill Mr. Long; but under the approaching shadow of Goethe, I should
   feel more inclined to kill myself. That is the deathly element in
   denationalisation; that it poisons life itself, the most real of all
   realities. . . .

Some people felt it an affectation that the Irish should put up their
street signs in Gaelic but G.K. defended it. "It is well to remember
that these things, which we also walk past every day, are exactly the
sort of things that always have, in the nameless fashion, the
national note."

   It is this sensation of stemming a stream, of ten thousand things
   all pouring one way, labels, titles, monuments, metaphors, modes of
   address, assumptions in controversy, that make an Englishman in
   Ireland know that he is in a strange land. Nor is he merely
   bewildered, as among a medley of strange things. On the contrary, if
   he has any sense, he soon finds them united and simplified to a
   single impression, as if he were talking to a strange person. He
   cannot define it, because nobody can define a person, and nobody can
   define a nation. He can only see it, smell it, hear it, handle it,
   bump into it, fall over it, kill it, be killed for it, or be damned
   for doing it wrong. He must be content with these mere hints of its
   existence; but he cannot define it, because it is like a person, and
   no book of logic will undertake to define Aunt Jane or Uncle William.
   We can only say, with more or less mournful conviction, that if Aunt
   Jane is not a person, there is no such thing as a person. And I say
   with equal conviction that if Ireland is not a nation, there is no
   such thing as a nation. . . .

*   *   *   *

In September 1916 Cecil Chesterton bade farewell to the _New
Witness_. He was in the army as a private in the East in the East
Surreys, and G.K. took over the editorship.

   I like Chesterton's paper, the _New Witness_ [wrote an American
   journalist in the _New York Tribune_ (no, _not_ yet Herald-Tribune)],
   since G.K.C. has taken it over. . . . Gilbert Chesterton seems to me
   the best thing England has produced since Dickens. . . . I like the
   things he believes in, and I hate sociological experts and
   prohibitionists and Uhlan officers, which are the things he hates. I
   feel in him that a very honest man is speaking. . . . I like his
   impudence to Northcliffe. . . . As a journalist Chesterton gets only
   about a quarter of himself into action. But even a quarter of
   Chesterton is good measure. . . . He works very hard at his
   journalism. That is why he doesn't do it as well as his careless
   things, which give him fun. But for all that there is no other
   editorial page in England or the United States written with the snap,
   wit and honest humanity of his paragraphs. I hope he won't blunt
   himself by overwork. It would be an international loss if that sane,
   jolly mind is bent to routine. England has need of him.

The overwork and the high quality of it were alike undeniable, but
after the long repose of his illness G.K. seemed like a giant
refreshed and ready to run his course. Each week's _New Witness_ had
an Editorial, besides the paragraphs of which the _New York Tribune_
speaks (not all of these however written by himself), and a signed
article under the suggestive general heading "At the Sign of the
World's End." The difference between articles and a real book, and
the degree of work needed to turn the one into the other, may be seen
if the essays on Marriage in the paper be compared with _The
Superstition of Divorce_ for which they furnished material, and those
on Ireland with _Irish Impressions_. There were besides very many
articles in other papers English and American and he was also writing
his _History of England_.

If all Englishmen had kept the same unwavering gaze at reality as
Chesterton much of what he called "the rather feeble-minded reaction"
that followed the war might have been avoided and with it the advent
of Hitler. Particularly he opposed the tendency to call "Kaiserism"
what is now called "Hitlerism" and should always be called
Prussianism. While agreeing that care should be taken not to write of
German atrocities that could not be substantiated he insisted that
there was no ground for forgetting or ignoring the findings of the
American enquiry in Belgium which had established more than enough.
These horrors, the bombing of civilians, shelling of open towns and
sinking of passenger ships culminating with the Lusitania, were in
the main what brought America into the war. Here, as with England,
Chesterton did not admit as primary what has since been so
exclusively stressed--the economic motive. Here as with England he
took the volunteer army as one great proof of the will of a Nation.
And those of us who remember can testify that in America as in
England the will of the people was ahead of the decision of the

On one point Chesterton's articles have a special interest: the
question of reprisals. When the Germans broke yet another of the
promises of the Hague Convention and initiated the use of poison gas
there was much discussion as to the ethics of reprisals and G.K. used
against reprisals two arguments one of which was a rare example of a
fallacy in his arguments. If a wasp stings you, he said, you do not
sting back. No, we might reply, but you squash it--you have as a man
an advantage over a wasp and so do not need to use its own weapons to
defeat it.

His other argument is far more powerful--is indeed overwhelming. If
you use, even as reprisals, unlawful weapons, it is harder to prove
you did not initiate them. And I remember well another feeling at the
time expressed by G.K. which was I believe that of the majority of
English people--if we use these things, if we accept the Prussian
gospel of "frightfulness" then spiritually we have lost the war.
Spiritually Prussia has conquered: as she has engulfed the old
Germanies and, first imposing her rule, then gained acceptance of her
ideas, so it may be with us. Ideas are everything and the barbarians
destroy more with ideas even than by material weapons, horrible as
these may be.

Inclined at first to hope for the fruits of democracy from the
Russian revolution Chesterton was soon being reproached by H. G.
Wells for "dirty" suspiciousness about the Bolshevik leaders and
their motives. But the collapse of Russia and the defeat of Rumania
alike only strengthened the necessity of the fight to a finish with
Prussia that became as the months passed the absorbing aim of the
_New Witness_. In the treaties respectively of Brest-Litovsk and
Bukarest Germany imposed upon these two countries incredibly harsh

Thus wrote the _New Witness_ after the Treaty of Bukarest:

   We should like to ask the Pacifists and Semi-Pacifists, who are
   fond of official documents, if they have read the White Paper dealing
   with the plain facts about the peace with Roumania. If they have a
   single word to say on the subject, we should be much interested to
   hear what it is. It makes absolutely plain two facts, both of which
   have a sort of frightful humour after all the humanitarian talk about
   no annexations and no indemnities. The first is that the conquerors
   have annexed in a direct and personal sense beyond what is commonly
   meant by annexation; the second is that they have indemnified
   themselves by an immediate coercion and extortion, which is generally
   veiled by the forms of a recognised indemnity. In annexing some nine
   thousand square miles, they have been particular to attach whole
   forests to the hunting-grounds of Hungarian nobles and the timber
   of Hungarian wood merchants; not merely annexing as a conqueror
   annexes, but rather stealing as an individual steals. Further, the
   fun growing fast and furious, they have taken country containing a
   hundred and thirty thousand Roumanians, merely because it is
   uninhabited land. For the second point, we often speak figuratively
   of tyrants enslaving a country; but Teutons do literally enslave. All
   the males of the occupied land, which happens to be two-thirds of
   Roumania, are driven to work on pain of death or prison. All this is
   clear and satisfactory enough; but the White Paper keeps the best to
   the last. It is this sentence we would commend to our peaceful
   friends: "The German delegates informed the Roumanian delegates, who
   were appalled at being required to accept such conditions, that they
   would appreciate their moderation when they knew those which would be
   imposed on the Western Powers after the victory of the Central

The reminder was needed. Far less than most people was Chesterton
subject to that weakness of the human spirit that brings weariness in
sustained effort and premature relaxation. Prussia had not, he said,
shown any evidence of repentance--merely of regret for lack of
success. The Kaiser said he had not wanted this war. No, said
Chesterton, he wanted a very different war. Chesterton might and did
say later that he himself had wanted a very different peace--the
destruction of Prussia, the reconstruction of the old German
states--but at present he wanted only to fight on until this became

I do not think he ever hated anybody--but he did hate Prussianism as
the "wickedness that hindered loving," and he had no liking for "the
patronizing pacifism of the gentleman [it was Romain Rolland] who
took a holiday in the Alps and said he was above the struggle; as if
there were any Alp from which the soul can look down on Calvary.
There is, indeed, one mountain among them that might be very
appropriate to so detached an observer--the mountain named after
Pilate, the man who washed his hands."*

[* _Uses of Diversity_, p. 40 (Fountain Library)]

His keen imagination could visualize the sufferings caused by war.
Vicariously he knew something of the life of the trenches, for Cecil
like many another C. Man* had managed to get to France. A delightful
article on Comradeship shows, what letters from soldiers confirm, how
perfectly at home was Private Chesterton among his fellows and how
much loved by them.

[* English soldiers are classed A, B, or C, according to their degree
of physical fitness, and Cecil was in Class C.]

I can understand a pagan, but not a Christian, who simply dismisses
the suffering of our soldiers as useless. He is like Dr. Hyde
scorning Father Damien or like those who cried at the foot of the
Cross: He saved others, Himself He cannot save. They saved others
these men, their suffering was that of the human race whose head is
Christ. With Him they bore, even if they knew it not, that mysterious
burden of humanity that makes some men question God's existence but
draws others into conscious membership of His mystical body. Many
were so drawn in those days and there seemed a new lifting up of the
Cross. The _New Witness_ does, I think, lack one note a little. They
were too busy hating Prussianism to give thought to the Christian
command to love Prussians, whose sufferings too were those of

Into the opposite error there was no risk that they would fall. Never
for them would heroism be belittled in the name of the very horrors
it was encountering. In one article Belloc touched on this strange
perversion and reminded his readers that the power to ravage and
destroy was not really a new result of modern machinery. Attila and
his Huns had inflicted even greater devastation and had left a desert
behind them. Barbarism in its nature was destructive and we were
encountering barbarism. In so doing we were acting the part of
Christian men.

But the old fights still had to be waged on the home front: against
the money power and against what the _New Witness_ called Prussianism
at home. Unceasingly they battled for fair treatment for soldiers'
wives and children, for freedom from unmeaning and unnecessary
regulations, against the profiteering by big firms and the consequent
crushing of small. About two thousand small butchers' shops for
instance had to close at the very beginning of the war owing to a
cornering of supplies by the large firms. Against this and all the
ramifications of the meat "scandal" the _New Witness_ struggled,
publishing, they claimed, facts unpublished elsewhere and inspiring
questions in the House of Commons. Belloc's irony, Chesterton's wit,
point these articles and make them worth reading as literature; and
there is some of the old fooling. A further series on the Servile
State is attacked by Shaw who thinks that Belloc, since he is not a
Socialist, must be a follower of Herbert Spencer! G.K. accounts for
this by saying that Shaw had not read Belloc. "How do you know,"
retorts Shaw, "it is not Herbert Spencer I have not read? Suppose you
had your choice of not reading a book by Belloc and not reading one
by Spencer which would you choose? Hang it all, be reasonable."

The economic front was never abandoned and the paper continued to
attack all forms of Socialism including the recreation of Bumble by
Mrs. Sidney Webb, with all the regimentation of the poor "for their
own good" that Bumble represented. The inner secrets of the Fabian
Office are unfolded by Shaw in a letter to Gilbert (dated Aug. 6,


   If you want to expose a scandalous orgy in the _New Witness_, you
   may depend on the following as being a correct account by an eye

   You know that there is a body called The Fabian Research
   Department, of which I have the hollow honour to be Perpetual Grand,
   the real moving spirit being Mrs. Sidney Webb. A large number of
   innocent young men and women are attracted to this body by promises
   of employment by the said Mrs. S.W. in works of unlimited and
   inspiring uplift, such as are unceasingly denounced, along with
   Marconi and other matters, in your well-written organ.

   Well, Mrs. Sidney Webb summoned all these young things to an
   uplifting At Home at the Fabian office lately. They came in crowds
   and sat at her feet whilst she prophesied unto them, with occasional
   comic relief from the unfortunate Perpetual Grand. At the decent hour
   of ten o'clock, she bade them good night and withdrew to her own
   residence and to bed. For some accidental reason or other I lingered
   until, as I thought, all the young things had gone home. I should
   explain that I was in the two pair back. At last I started to go home
   myself. As I descended the stairs I was stunned by the most infernal
   din I have ever heard, even at the front, coming from the Fabian
   Hall, which would otherwise be the back yard. On rushing to this
   temple I found the young enthusiasts sprawling over tables, over
   radiators, over everything except chairs, in a state of scandalous
   abandonment, roaring at the tops of their voices and in a quite
   unintelligible manner a string of presumably obscene songs,
   accompanied on the piano with frantic gestures and astonishing
   musical skill by a man whom I had always regarded as a respectable
   Fabian Researcher, but who now turned out to be a Demon Pianist
   out-Heroding (my secretary put in two rs, and explains that she was
   thinking of Harrods) Svengali. A horribly sacrilegious character was
   given to the proceedings by the fact that the tune they were singing
   when I entered was Luther's hymn _Eine Feste Burg ist Unser Gott_. As
   they went on (for I regret to say that my presence exercised no
   restraint whatever) they sang their extraordinary and
   incomprehensible litany to every tune, however august its
   associations, which happened to fit it. These, if you please, are the
   solemn and sour neophytes whose puritanical influence has kept you in
   dread for so many years.

   But I have not told you the worst. Before I fled from the building
   I did at last discover what words it was they were singing. When it
   first flashed on me, I really could not believe it. But at the end of
   the next verse no doubt or error was possible. The young maenad
   nearest me was concluding every strophe by shrieking that she didn't
   care where the water went if it didn't get into the wine.* Now you

[* The refrain of a poem in _The Flying Inn_.]

   I have since ascertained that a breviary of this Black Mass can be
   obtained at the Fabian Office, with notes of the numbers of the hymns
   Ancient and Modern, and all the airs sacred and profane, to which
   your poems have been set.

   This letter needs no answer--indeed, admits of none. I leave you to
   your reflections.



"The Shaw Worm Turns on Wells" was a headline in the _New Witness_
over a vigorous and light-hearted attack. The others were apt to
score off Wells in these exchanges because he lost light-heartedness
and became irritable. Even with Gilbert he sometimes broke out,
although in a calmer moment he told Shaw that to get angry with
Chesterton was an impossibility. With Cecil Chesterton it was only
too easy to get angry at any rate as he appeared in the _New Witness_.
But I think when he heard Cecil was in France Wells must have
regretted one of the letters he wrote to Gilbert, just before the
change of editorship.

It was curious, the contrast between the genial personality so loved
by his friends and the waspishness so often shown by Cecil and his
staff in the columns of the paper. "His extraordinary personality,"
writes E. S. P. Haynes, "wonderfully penetrated the eccentricity of
his appearance. His features were slightly fantastic and his voice
was as loudly discordant as his laughter; but the real charm and
generosity of his character were so transparent that one never seemed
to be conscious of the physical medium."

Yet with all my sympathy for many of the _New Witness_ ideas my
nerves jangle when I read the volumes of Cecil's editorship, and I
think jangled nerves explain if they do not excuse this outburst by


   Haven't I on the whole behaved decently to you? Haven't I always
   shown a reasonable civility to you and your brother and Belloc?
   Haven't I betrayed at times a certain affection for you? Very well,
   then you will understand that I don't start out to pick a needless
   quarrel with the _New Witness_ crowd. But this business of the
   Hueffer book in the _New Witness_ makes me sick. Some disgusting
   little greaser named ---- has been allowed to insult old F.M.H. in a
   series of letters that make me ashamed of my species. Hueffer has
   many faults no doubt but firstly he's poor, secondly he's notoriously
   unhappy and in a most miserable position, thirdly he's a better
   writer than any of your little crowd and fourthly, instead of
   pleading his age and his fat and taking refuge from service in a
   greasy obesity as your Brother has done, he is serving his country.
   His book is a great book and ---- just lies about it--I guess he's a
   dirty minded priest or some such unclean thing--when he says it is
   the story of a stallion and so forth. The whole outbreak is so
   envious, so base, so cat-in-the-gutter-spitting-at-the-passer-by,
   that I will never let the _New Witness_ into the house again.

   Regretfully yours,

   H. G. WELLS.

Gilbert replied:

   11 Warwick Gardens, Kensington W.


   As you will see by the above address I have been away from home;
   and must apologise for delay; I am returning almost at once, however.
   Most certainly you have always been a good friend to me, and I have
   always tried to express my pride in the fact. I know enough of your
   good qualities in other ways to put down everything in your last
   letter to an emotion of loyalty to another friend. Any quarrel
   between us will not come from me; and I confess I am puzzled as to
   why it should come from you, merely because somebody else who is not
   I dislikes a book by somebody else who is not you, and says so in an
   article for which neither of us is even remotely responsible. I very
   often disagree with the criticisms of ----; I do not know anything
   about the book or the circumstances of Hueffer. I cannot help being
   entertained by your vision of ----, who is not a priest, but a poor
   journalist, and I believe a Free-Thinker. But whoever he may be (and
   I hardly think the problem worth a row between you and me) he has a
   right to justice: and you must surely see that even if it were my
   paper, I could not either tell a man to find a book good when he
   found it bad, or sack him for a point of taste which has nothing in
   the world to do with the principles of the paper. For the rest,
   Haynes represents the _New Witness_ much more than a reviewer does,
   being both on the board and the staff; and he has put your view in
   the paper--I cannot help thinking with a more convincing logic. Don't
   you sometimes find it convenient, even in my case, that your friends
   are less touchy than you are?

   By all means drop any paper you dislike, though if you do it for
   every book review you think unfair, I fear your admirable range of
   modern knowledge will be narrowed. Of the paper in question I will
   merely say this. My brother and in some degree the few who have
   worked with him have undertaken a task of public criticism for the
   sake of which they stand in permanent danger of imprisonment and
   personal ruin. We are incessantly reminded of this danger; and no one
   has ever dared to suggest that we have any motive but the best. If
   you should ever think it right to undertake such a venture, you will
   find that the number of those who will commit their journalistic
   fortunes to it is singularly small: and includes some who have more
   courage and honesty than acquaintance with the hierarchy of art. It
   is even likely that you will come to think the latter less important.

   Yours, sans rancune,


   P.S. On re-reading your letter in order to be as fair as I am
   trying to be, I observe you specially mention ----'s letters. You
   will see, of course, that this does not make any difference; to stop
   letters would be to stop Haynes' letter and others on your side; and
   these could not be printed without permitting a rejoinder. I post
   this from Beaconsfield, where anything further will find me.

It ended as all quarrels did that anyone started with Gilbert:

   DEAR G.K.C.

   Also I can't quarrel with you. But the Hueffer business aroused my
   long dormant moral indignation and I let fly at the most sensitive
   part of the _New Witness_ constellation, the only part about whose
   soul I care. I hate these attacks on rather miserable exceptional
   people like Hueffer and Masterman. I know these aren't perfect men
   but their defects make quite sufficient hells for them without these
   public peltings. I suppose I ought to have written to C.C. instead of
   to you. One of these days I will go and have a heart to heart talk to
   him. Only I always get so amiable when I meet a man. He, C.C., needs
   it--I mean the talking to.

   Yours ever


Through the war's progress Wells appeared to Chesterton to be
expressing with a powerful and individual genius not his own
considered views but the reactions of public opinion. As Mr. Britling
he saw the war through, and even called it "a war to end war." As Mr.
Clissold he asked of what use it had all been. Chesterton speaks of
him as a "rather unstable genius," and the genius and instability
alike can be seen in his meteor appearances in the _New Witness_ and
in his books. Several of these he sent to Gilbert, who wrote (Sept.
12, 1917):

   I have been trying for a long time, though perpetually baulked
   with business and journalism, to write and thank you for sending me,
   in so generous a manner, your ever interesting and delightful books;
   especially as divisions touching the things we care most about, drive
   me, every time I review them, to deal more in controversy and less in
   compliment than I intend. The truth and the trouble, is that both of
   us are only too conscious that there is a Great War going on all the
   time on the purely mental plane; and I cannot help thinking your view
   is often a heresy; and I know only too well that when you lead it, it
   is likely to be a large heresy. I fear that being didactic means
   being disproportionate; and that the temptation to attack something I
   think I can correct leads to missing (in my writing, not in my
   reading) a thousand fine things that I could never imitate. It is
   lucky for me that you are not very often a book-reviewer, when I
   bring out my own shapeless and amateurish books.

In the _Autobiography_ G.K. calls Wells a sportive but spiritual
child of Huxley. He delighted in his wit and swiftness of mind, but
he summarized in the same book the quality which runs through all his

   I have always thought that he re-acted too swiftly to everything;
   possibly as a part of the swiftness of his natural genius. I have
   never ceased to admire and sympathise; but I think he has always been
   too much in a state of reaction. To use the name which would probably
   annoy him most, I think he is a permanent reactionary. Whenever I met
   him, he seemed to be coming from somewhere, rather than going
   anywhere. . . . And he was so often nearly right, that his movements
   irritated me like the sight of somebody's hat being perpetually
   washed up by the sea and never touching the shore. But I think he
   thought that the object of opening the mind is simply opening the
   mind. Whereas I am incurably convinced that the object of opening the
   mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

No change of mood in the public meant any change in the _New Witness_
group. In a powerful article in reply to an old friend who asked for
peace because the war was destroying freedom, Belloc told him that
freedom had gone long since for the mass of Englishmen. "How many,"
wrote G.K., "pacifists or semi-pacifists . . . resisted the detailed
destruction of all liberty for the populace _before the war?_ It is a
bitter choice between freedom and patriotism, but how many fought for
freedom before it gave them the chance of fighting against

[* _New Witness_, May 31, 1917.]

Again and again they touched the spot on the question of trading with
the enemy. In this as in all their attacks they made one point of
enormous importance. Do not, they said, look for traitors and spies
among waiters and small traders--look up, not down. You will find
them in high places if you will dare to look. They dared.

And here came in once more what was commonly regarded as a strange
crank peculiar to the Chesterbelloc--their outlook towards Jews.
Usually those who referred to it spoke of a religious prejudice.
Again and again the _New Witness_, not always patiently but with
unvarying clarity, explained. They had no religious prejudice against
Jews, they had not even a racial prejudice against Jews (though this
I think was true only of some of the staff). Their only prejudice was
against the pretence that a Jew was an Englishman.

It was undeniable that there were (for example) Rothschilds in Paris,
London and Berlin, all related and conducting an international family
banking business. There were d'Erlangers in London and Paris
(pronounced in the French style) whose cousins were Erlangers
(pronounced in the German style) in Berlin. How, the _New Witness_
asked, could members of such families feel the same about the war as
an Englishman? They could not, to put it at its lowest, have the same
primary loyalty to England or to Germany either. Their primary
loyalty must be, indeed it ought to be, to their own race and kindred.

Yet this was surely an excessive simplification. We have only to
remember that lately a son of the d'Erlanger house died gallantly as
an English airman: we have only to remember the thousands of Jews who
fought in our ranks in this war and the last. Very many Jews _are_
patriotic for England and for America: many were patriotic for
Germany. This, no doubt, makes the problem more acute, but any
discussion is nonsense that omits this certain fact. There are Jews
patriotic first for the country they live in, the country that gave
them home and citizenship, of which often their wives and mothers are
descended; there are others who feel that Jewry is their _patria_.

This was the fact the _New Witness_ could never forget. A Jew might
not be specially pro-German in feeling, yet his actions might help
Germany by being pro-Jewish. International Jewish trading _was_
trading with the enemy and was to a very large extent continuing in
spite of assurances to the contrary. Moreover international finance
was getting nervous over the continuance of the war as a menace to
its own future: it wanted peace, a peace that should still leave it
in possession in this country--and in Germany. Gilbert Chesterton was
passionately determined to cast it out.

He was a Zionist. He wished for the Jewish people the peaceful
possession of a country of their own, but he demanded urgently that
they should no longer be allowed to govern his country. Marconi still
obsessed him, and the surrender of English politics to the money
power seemed to him to represent as great a danger for the future as
Prussianism. For a moment the two dangers were the one danger, and
against them was set the people of England.

It was at this moment that Chesterton published his epic of the
English people which he called a History. Frank Swinnerton has told*
how this book came to be written. Chatto & Windus (for whom
Swinnerton worked) had asked G.K. to write a history of England: he
refused "on the ground that he was no historian." Later he signed a
contract with the same publishers for a book of essays, then
discovered that he was already under contract to give this book to
another firm. He asked Chatto & Windus to cancel their contract and
offered to write something else for them. Swinnerton's account

[* _Georgian Scene_, p. 93.]

   The publishers, concealing jubilation, sternly recalled their
   original proposal for a short history of England. Shrieks and groans
   were distinctly heard all the way from Beaconsfield, but the promise
   was kept. The _Short History of England_ was what Chesterton must
   have called a wild and awful success. It probably has been the most
   generally read of all his books. But while the credit for it is his,
   he must not be blamed for impudence in essaying history, when the
   inspiration arose in another's head (not mine) and when in fact no
   man ever went to the writing of a literary work with less confidence.

You can find no dates in this History and a minimum of facts, but you
can find vision. The history professors at London University said to
Lawrence Solomon that it was full of inaccuracies, yet "He's got
something we hadn't got." G.K. might well have borrowed from Newman
and called it an Essay in Aid of a History of England. He showed
"something of the great moral change which turned the Roman Empire
into Christendom, by which each great thing, to which it afterwards
gave birth, was baptised into a promise or at least into a hope of
permanence. It may be that each of its ideas was, as it were, mixed
with immortality."

The English people had been free and happy as a part of this great
thing, cultivating their own land, establishing by their Guilds a
social scheme based upon "pity and a craving for equality," building
cathedrals and worshipping God, with the "Holy Land much nearer to a
plain man's house than Westminster, and immeasurably nearer than
Runnymede." All life was made lovely by "this prodigious presence of
a religious transfiguration in common life" and only began to darken
with the successful "Rebellion of the Rich" under Henry VIII.

Probably too big a proportion is given by Chesterton to the great
crime that overshadowed for him the rest of English history. Yet he
does justice in brilliant phrasing to the Eighteenth Century Whigs:
still more to Chatham and Burke and to Dr. Johnson whom he so loved
and to whom he was often compared. But supremely he loved Nelson "who
dies with his stars on his bosom and his heart upon his sleeve." For
Nelson was the type and chief exemplar of the ordinary Englishman.

   . . . the very hour of his death, the very name of his ship, are
   touched with that epic completeness which critics call the long arm
   of coincidence and prophets the hand of God. His very faults and
   failures were heroic, not in a loose but in a classic sense; in that
   he fell only like the legendary heroes, weakened by a woman, not
   foiled by any foe among men. And he remains the incarnation of a
   spirit in the English that is purely poetic; so poetic that it
   fancies itself a thousand things, and sometimes even fancies itself
   prosaic. At a recent date, in an age of reason, in a country already
   calling itself dull and business-like, with top-hats and factory
   chimneys already beginning to rise like towers of funereal
   efficiency, this country clergyman's son moved to the last in a
   luminous cloud, and acted a fairy tale. He shall remain as a lesson
   to those who do not understand England, and a mystery to those who
   think they do. In outward action he led his ships to victory and died
   upon a foreign sea; but symbolically he established something
   indescribable and intimate, something that sounds like a native
   proverb; he was the man who burnt his ships, and who for ever set the
   Thames on fire.

The _Ballad of the White Horse_ had been a poem about English legends
and origins. The _History_ too was called a poem by the reviewers.
And it was. It was a poem about Falstaff and Sam Weller and even the
Artful Dodger who in so many British colonies had turned into
Robinson Crusoe. His rulers had tried to educate him, they had tried
to Germanize him and to teach him "to embrace a Saxon because he was
the other half of an Anglo-Saxon." All English culture had been based
for a century and more on ardent admiration for German _Kultur_. And

   . . . the day came, and the ignorant fellow found he had other
   things to learn. And he was quicker than his educated countrymen,
   for he had nothing to unlearn.

   He in whose honour all had been said and sung, stirred, and
   stepped across the border of Belgium. Then were spread out before
   men's eyes all the beauties of his culture and all the benefits of his
   organization; then we beheld under a lifting daybreak what light
   we had followed and after what image we had laboured to refashion
   ourselves. Nor in any story of mankind has the irony of God chosen
   the foolish things so catastrophically to confound the wise. For the
   common crowd of poor and ignorant Englishmen, because they only
   knew that they were Englishmen, burst through the filthy cobwebs
   of four hundred years and stood where their fathers stood when they
   knew that they were Christian men. The English poor, broken in
   every revolt, bullied by every fashion, long despoiled of property,
   and now being despoiled of liberty, entered history with a noise of
   trumpets, and turned themselves in two years into one of the iron
   armies of the world. And when the critic of politics and literature,
   feeling that this war is after all heroic, looks around him to find the
   hero, he can point to nothing but a mob.


After the Armistice

THE MONTHS THAT followed the signing of the Armistice were the
darkest in Gilbert Chesterton's life. Nothing but the immense natural
high spirits of the _New Witness_ group could have carried them
through the many years in which they cried their unheeded warnings to
England. But now as the war drew to an end a new note of optimism had
become audible. The Prussian menace was almost conquered. Our
soldiers would return and would bring with them the courage and
confidence of victors. They might overthrow the governing plutocracy
and build again an England of freedom and sanity. But one soldier did
not return--the one to whom this group looked for comradeship and
inspiration. On December 6, 1918, Cecil Chesterton died in hospital
in France.

"His courage was heroic, native, positive and equal," wrote Belloc,
"always at the highest potentiality of courage. . . ."

Gilbert wrote:

   He lived long enough to march to the victory which was for him a
   supreme vision of liberty and the light. The work which he put first
   he did before he died. The work which he put second, but very near to
   the other, he left for us to do. There are many of us who will
   abandon many other things, and recognize no greater duty than to do

This second work was the fight at home against corruption and for
freedom for the English people. It is impossible to remember Gilbert
Chesterton vividly and to write the word bitterness. It was rather
with a profound and burning indignation that he thought of his fellow
Englishmen who had fought and died--and then looked up and saw
"Marconi George" and "Marconi Isaacs," still rulers of the fate of
his country. Thus meditating he wrote an "Elegy in a Country

   The men that worked for England
   They have their graves at home:
   And bees and birds of England
   About the cross can roam.

   But they that fought for England,
   Following a falling star,
   Alas, alas for England
   They have their graves afar.

   And they that rule in England,
   In stately conclave met,
   Alas, alas for England
   They have no graves as yet.*

[* _Collected Poems_, p. 65.]

Strange irony of Cecil Chesterton's last weeks: his old enemy Godfrey
Isaacs brought an action for perjury against Sir Charles Hobhouse.
Both men's Counsel agreed and the judge stressed that perjury lay on
one side or the other. The case was given against Isaacs. He appealed
and his appeal was dismissed. Perjury had lain on one side or the

Meanwhile news came that Rufus Isaacs, now Lord Reading, had gone
with Lloyd George to Paris to attend the Peace Conference. All that
this might mean: the peril to Poland: the danger of a Prussia kept at
the head of the Germanies for the sake of international finance: an
abasement of England before those countries that had not forgotten
Marconi: all this was vivid to Gilbert Chesterton. In the same number
of the _New Witness_ in which he mourned his brother (Dec. 13, 1918),
he wrote under "The Sign of the World's End" an Open Letter to Lord

   My Lord--I address to you a public letter as it is upon a public
   question: it is unlikely that I should ever trouble you with any
   private letter on any private question; and least of all on the
   private question that now fills my mind. It would be impossible
   altogether to ignore the irony that has in the last few days brought
   to an end the great Marconi duel in which you and I in some sense
   played the part of seconds; that personal part of the matter ended
   when Cecil Chesterton found death in the trenches to which he had
   freely gone; and Godfrey Isaacs found dismissal in those very Courts
   to which he once successfully appealed. But believe me I do not write
   on any personal matter; nor do I write, strangely enough perhaps,
   with any personal acrimony. On the contrary, there is something in
   these tragedies that almost unnaturally clarifies and enlarges the
   mind; and I think I write partly because I may never feel so
   magnanimous again. It would be irrational to ask you for sympathy;
   but I am sincerely moved to offer it. You are far more unhappy; for
   your brother is still alive.

   If I turn my mind to you and your type of politics it is not wholly
   and solely through that trick of abstraction by which in moments of
   sorrow a man finds himself staring at a blot on the tablecloth or an
   insect on the ground. I do, of course, realise, with that sort of
   dull clarity, that you are in practise a blot on the English
   landscape, and that the political men who made you are the creeping
   things of the earth. But I am, in all sincerity, less in a mood to
   mock at the sham virtues they parade than to try to imagine the more
   real virtues which they successfully conceal. In your own case there
   is the less difficulty, at least in one matter. I am very willing to
   believe that it was the mutual dependence of the members of your
   family that has necessitated the sacrifice of the dignity and
   independence of my country; and that if it be decreed that the
   English nation is to lose its public honour, it will be partly
   because certain men of the tribe of Isaacs kept their own strange
   private loyalty. I am willing to count this to you for a virtue as
   your own code may interpret virtue; but the fact would alone be
   enough to make me protest against any man professing your code and
   administering our law. And it is upon this point of your public
   position, and not upon any private feelings, that I address you today.

   Not only is there no question of disliking any race, but there is
   not here even a question of disliking any individual. It does not
   raise the question of hating you; rather it would raise, in some
   strange fashion, the question of loving you. Has it ever occurred to
   you how much a good citizen would have to love you in order to
   tolerate you? Have you ever considered how warm, indeed how wild,
   must be our affection for the particular stray stock-broker who has
   somehow turned into a Lord Chief Justice, to be strong enough to make
   us accept him as Lord Chief Justice? It is not a question of how much
   we dislike you, but of how much we like you; of whether we like you
   more than England, more than Europe, more than Poland the pillar of
   Europe, more than honour, more than freedom, more than facts. It is
   not, in short, a question of how much we dislike you, but of how far
   we can be expected to adore you, to die for you, to decay and
   degenerate for you; for your sake to be despised, for your sake to be
   despicable. Have you ever considered, in a moment of meditation, how
   curiously valuable you would really have to be, that Englishmen
   should in comparison be careless of all the things you have
   corrupted, and indifferent to all the things that you may yet
   destroy? Are we to lose the War which we have already won? That and
   nothing else is involved in losing the full satisfaction of the
   national claim of Poland. Is there any man who doubts that the Jewish
   International is unsympathetic with that full national demand? And is
   there any man who doubts that you will be sympathetic with the Jewish
   International? No man who knows anything of the interior facts of
   modern Europe has the faintest doubt on either point. No man doubts
   when he knows, whether or no he cares. Do you seriously imagine that
   those who know, that those who care, are so idolatrously infatuated
   with Rufus Daniel Isaacs as to tolerate such risk, let alone such
   ruin? Are we to set up as the standing representative of England a
   man who is a standing joke against England? That and nothing else is
   involved in setting up the chief Marconi Minister as our chief
   Foreign Minister. It is precisely in those foreign countries with
   which such a minister would have to deal, that his name would be, and
   has been, a sort of pantomime proverb like Panama or the South Sea
   Bubble. Foreigners were not threatened with fine and imprisonment for
   calling a spade a spade and a speculation a speculation; foreigners
   were not punished with a perfectly lawless law of libel for saying
   about public men what those very men had afterwards to admit in
   public. Foreigners were lookers-on who were really allowed to see
   most of the game, when our public saw nothing of the game; and they
   made not a little game of it. Are they henceforth to make game of
   everything that is said and done in the name of England in the
   affairs of Europe? Have you the serious impudence to call us
   Anti-Semites because we are not so extravagantly fond of one
   particular Jew as to endure this for him alone? No, my lord; the
   beauties of your character shall not so blind us to all elements of
   reason and self-preservation; we can still control our affections;
   if we are fond of you, we are not quite so fond of you as that. If we
   are anything but Anti-Semite, we are not Pro-Semite in that peculiar
   and personal fashion; if we are lovers, we will not kill ourselves
   for love. After weighing and valuing all your virtues, the qualities
   of our own country take their due and proportional part in our
   esteem. Because of you she shall not die.

   We cannot tell in what fashion you yourself feel your strange
   position, and how much you know it is a false position. I have
   sometimes thought I saw in the faces of such men as you that you felt
   the whole experience as unreal, a mere masquerade; as I myself might
   feel it if, by some fantastic luck in the old fantastic civilisation
   of China, I were raised from the Yellow Button to the Coral Button,
   or from the Coral Button to the Peacock's Feather. Precisely because
   these things would be grotesque, I might hardly feel them as
   incongruous. Precisely because they meant nothing to me I might be
   satisfied with them, I might enjoy them without any shame at my own
   impudence as an alien, adventurer. Precisely because I could not feel
   them as dignified, I should not know what I had degraded. My fancy may
   be quite wrong; it is but one of many attempts I have made to imagine
   and allow for an alien psychology in this matter; and if you, and
   Jews far worthier than you, are wise they will not dismiss as
   Anti-Semitism what may well prove the last serious attempt to
   sympathise with Semitism. I allow for your position more than most
   men allow for it; more, most assuredly, than most men will allow for
   it in the darker days that yet may come. It is utterly false to
   suggest that either I or a better man than I, whose work I now
   inherit, desired this disaster for you and yours, I wish you no such
   ghastly retribution. Daniel son of Isaac. Go in peace; but go.



In those last sentences the spirit of prophecy was upon Chesterton
after a truly dark and deep fashion. Yet even he did not guess that
the retribution he feared would fall, not upon that "tribe of Isaacs"
thus established in English government, but upon the unfortunate
Jewish people as a whole, from the German nation that Isaacs had gone
to Paris to protect. For there was no doubt in Chesterton's mind that
it was his work at the Peace Conference to strive for the survival of
Prussia, no matter how Europe and the rest of the Germanies suffered.
The _New Witness_ hated the Treaty of Versailles in its eventual form
as much as Hitler hates it, but for a very different reason.

All human judgments are limited and no doubt there was a mixture of
truth and error in Chesterton's view of the years that followed. But
in the universal reaction from the war-spirit to Pacifism the truths
he was urging received scant attention, his really amazing prophecies
fell on deaf ears. "He will almost certainly," Monsignor Knox has
said,* "be remembered as a prophet, in an age of false prophets." And
it is not insignificant that today it has become the fashion to say,
as he said twenty-five years ago and steadily reiterated, that the
peace of 1918 was only an armistice.

[* In the panegyric preached in Westminster Cathedral, June 27, 1936.]

Just before leaving England for the Front, Cecil had married Miss Ada
Jones, who had long worked with him on the paper, and who continued
to write both for it and later for _G.K.'s Weekly_, doing especially
the dramatic criticism under the pen-name of J. K. Prothero. Later on
she was to become famous for her exploit in spending a fortnight
investigating in the guise of a tramp the London of down-and-out
women. She wrote _In Darkest London_ and founded the Cecil Houses to
improve the very bad conditions she had discovered and in memory of
her husband. At this date Mrs. Cecil Chesterton visited Poland and
wrote a series of articles describing the Polish struggle for life
and freedom. Several Poles also contributed articles to the paper.
There was not I imagine on the staff one single writer with the kind
of ignorance that enabled Lloyd George to confess in Paris that he
did not know where Teschen was.

Here was the first tragedy of Versailles. The representatives of both
America and England were ignorant of the reality of Europe: Wilson
was (as Chesterton often said) a much better man than Lloyd George,
but he knew as little of the world which he had come to reconstruct.
He was, too, a political doctrinaire preferring "what was not there"
in the shape of a League of Nations to the real nations of Poland or
Italy. And with the American as with the Welshman international
finance stood beside the politicians and whispered in their ears. An
interesting article appeared in the _New Witness_ by an American who
said that no leading journal in his own country would print it any
more than any English one. He described the opposition of masses of
ordinary Americans to the League of Nations and how a Chicago banker,
who however had no international interests, had heartily agreed with
this opposition. But the same banker had written to him next day
eating his own words. In the interim he had met the other bankers.
This American correspondent held with the _New Witness_ that the
League of Nations was mainly a device of international finance so
framed as to enlist also the support of pacifist idealists who really
believed it would make for peace.

Only one thing, said the _New Witness_, would make for a stable
peace: remove Prussia from her position at the head of Germany: make
her regaining of it impossible. Make a strong Poland, and a strong
Italy, as well as a strong France. Later on they said they had
disapproved of the weakening of Austria, but though I do not doubt
that this is true in principle I cannot find much mention of Austria
in the paper: Poland, Italy and Ireland fill their columns--and the
freeing of England.

They claimed that theirs was in the main the policy of
Clemenceau--but both Chesterton and Belloc admitted that Clemenceau,
even if he desired a strong Poland as a barrier between Germany and
Russia, shared with his colleagues an equal responsibility in the
destruction of Austria which proved so fatal. He was too much a
freemason to desire many Catholic states. The interests of France
were not those of Italy, which certainly went to the wall and was
turned thereby from friend and ally into enemy. And the _New Witness_
summed up the fate of Ireland in the suggestion that Lloyd George had
said to Wilson: "If you won't look at Ireland, I won't look at
Mexico." Both Lloyd George and Wilson were too anti-Catholic to do
other than dislike (in Lloyd George's case _hate_ is the word)
Catholic Poland. It is certain that Lloyd George in particular worked
savagely against the Poland that should have been. A commission
appointed by the Peace Conference reported in favour of Poland owning
the port of Danzig and territory approximating to her age-long
historic boundaries and in particular including East Prussia in which
there was still a majority of Poles: Lloyd George sent back the
report for revision: they made it again on the same lines.

It was a strange anomaly that this man should have sat at the Council
Table representing a great country. In the past men had sat there who
not only knew much of Europe themselves but who had as their advisers
the Foreign office with all its experience and tradition. Belloc
pointed out in an article on Versailles that the English tradition
had been to hold a balance between conflicting extremes and thus to
bring about a peace that at least ensured stability for a long
period. But here was a man too ignorant to realize the dangers of his
own ignorance and therefore seek help from experience. This peace
would be, Belloc foretold, the parent of many wars. The Czechs got
much of what they wanted just as d'Annunzio got Fiume for Italy--by
seizing it. Poland waited for Versallles and enlisted her allies, yet
while the Peace Conference was actually in session Germans were
persecuting Poles in East Prussia so that many thousands of them fled
into Poland proper and thus diminished the Polish population of East
Prussia before any plebiscite could be taken there.

Lloyd George and Churchill sent a British expeditionary force to
Archangel to assist the "White" Russians but when the Bolsheviks
invaded Poland she was not supported. Nor did the Allies send her the
raw material they had promised, to rebuild her commercial life. Again
and again our papers reported pogroms in Poland. Yet close
investigation by writers for the _New Witness_ failed to discover any
pogroms in the cities in which they were reported as occurring.

Powerful are the words in which, in April 1919, Chesterton foretells
the future that will result if power and her historic port are
refused to Poland.

   . . . We know that a flood threatens the West from the meeting of
   two streams, the revenge of Germany and the anarchy of Russia; and we
   know that the West has only one possible dyke against such a flood,
   which is not the mere existence, but the might and majesty of Poland.
   We know that without some such Christian and chivalric shield on that
   side, we shall have half Europe and perhaps half Asia on our backs.

   We know exactly what the Germans think about our nationalities in
   the West, and exactly what the Bolshevists think about any
   nationalities anywhere. We know that if the Poles have a port and a
   powerful line of communication with the West, they will be eager to
   help the West. We know that if they have no port they will have no
   reason to help the West and no power to help anybody. We know that if
   they lose their port it will not be by any act of English public
   opinion or any public opinion, but by the most secret of all secret
   diplomacy; that it will not even be given up by the English to the
   Germans, but by German Jews to other German Jews. We know that such
   international adventurers would still find themselves floating on the
   top of any tide that drowned the nations, and that they do not care
   what nations they drown. We know that out of the whole world the
   Polish port is the one place that should have been held, and the one
   place that is being surrendered.

   In short, we know what everybody knows and scarcely anybody says.

   There is one word to be added for those detached persons who see no
   particular objection to England ceasing to be English, who do not
   care about the national names of the West, which have been the
   greatest words in the poetry of the world. So far as we know there is
   only one ideal they do care about, and they will not get it. Whatever
   else this betrayal means it does not mean peace. The Poles have
   raised revolution after revolution, when three colossal Empires
   prevented them from being a nation at all. It is not in the realm of
   sanity to suppose that, if we make them half a nation, they will not
   some day attempt to be a whole nation. But we shall come back to the
   place where we started, after another cycle of terror and torment and
   abominable butchery--and to a place where we might, in peace and
   perfect safety, stand firm today.

"Not by any act of English public opinion" would Poland be weakened,
not by any act of English opinion Prussia strengthened or Ireland
oppressed. It was the horror of the situation that no act of English
public opinion seemed possible, for the organs of action were
stultified. When they _could_ act by fighting and by dying Englishmen
had done it grandly. Not all that they had done had, Chesterton
believed, been lost. Because of them the Cross once more had replaced
the crescent over the Holy City of Jerusalem, because of them Alsace
and Lorraine were French once more and Poland lived again. But their
sufferings and their death had not availed yet to save England.

   And what is theirs, though banners blow on Warsaw risen again, Or
   ancient laughter walks in gold through the vineyards of Lorraine,
   Their dead are marked on English stones, their loves on English
   trees, How little is the prize they win, how mean a coin for these--
   How small a shrivelled laurel-leaf lies crumpled here and curled;
   They died to save their country and they only saved the world.*

[* _Collected Poems_, pp. 79-80, "The English Graves."]

In the _New Witness_ he wrote (July 25, 1919):

   On Peace Day I set up outside my house two torches, and twined them
   with laurel; because I thought at least there was nothing pacifist
   about laurel. But that night, after the bonfire and the fireworks had
   faded, a wind grew and blew with gathering violence, blowing away the
   rain. And in the morning I found one of the laurelled posts torn off
   and lying at random on the rainy ground; while the other still stood
   erect, green and glittering in the sun. I thought that the pagans
   would certainly have called it an omen; and it was one that strangely
   fitted my own sense of some great work half fulfilled and half
   frustrated. And I thought vaguely of that man in Virgil, who prayed
   that he might slay his foe and return to his country; and the gods
   heard half the prayer, and the other half was scattered to the winds.
   For I knew we were right to rejoice; since the tyrant was indeed
   slain and his tyranny fallen for ever; but I know not when we shall
   find our way back to our own land.

English soldiers in Ireland felt, as we all remember, a strong
sympathy with the Irish people: most of them, said the _New Witness_,
became Sinn Feiners. This was an exaggeration, but certainly their
opposition to acting as terrorists led to the employment in their
stead of the jail-birds known as Black and Tans.

And in England itself the feeling was stirring that grew stronger as
the years passed. The soldiers, who were the nation, had won the
victory, the politicians had thrown it away. A rushed election before
most of the men were demobilized had brought back the same old
politicians by turning, so G.K. put it, "collusion" into "coalition."
A Coalition Government had been in wartime "comprehensible and
defensible; precisely because it is not concerned with construction
or reconstruction but only with the warding off of destruction." A
peace-time coalition could do nothing but show up the absurdity of
the old party labels. For if these meant anything they meant that
their wearers wanted an entirely different kind of construction, at
which therefore they could not collaborate. How could a real Tory
co-operate in construction with a genuine Radical? It was the
culmination of unreality.

The idea that it succeeded (for the moment) because the country
really believed that Lloyd George had won the war seemed to
Chesterton the crowning absurdity. It succeeded because the party
machines combined to finance their candidates and offered them to a
rather dazed country whose men were still in great numbers under
arms. "There is naturally no dissentient when hardly anybody seems to
be sentient. Indifference is called unanimity."

How then could this indifference be thrown off: How could the
returning manhood of the nation be given a true democracy: was there
still hope? If there was, never had the _New Witness_ been more
needed than now. It had told the truth about political corruption,
today it had to fight it: "We are not divided now into those who know
and those who do not know. We are divided now into those who care and
those who do not care." Thus wrote Chesterton in an article about his
own continued editorship of the paper.

   Politics would never have been my province, either in the highest
   or the lowest sense. . . . I have hitherto known myself to be merely
   a stop-gap; but my action, or rather inaction, as a stop-gap, has
   come terribly to an end. That gap will never be filled now, till God
   restores all the noble ruin that we name the world; and the wisest
   know best that the gap will yawn as hopelessly in the history of
   England as in the story of our private lives. I must now either
   accept this duty entirely or abandon it entirely. I will not abandon
   it; for every instinct and nerve of intelligence I have tells me that
   this is a time when it must not be abandoned. I must accept a
   comparison that must be a contrast, and a crushing contrast; but
   though I can never be so good as my brother, I will see if I can be
   better than myself.

The same attacks on financiers and others constantly reiterated might
well have put Gilbert in the dock where his brother had stood. But I
think the upshot of the case against Cecil had not been entirely
encouraging to the winners. Then too, G.K.'s immense popularity made
such an attack a still more doubtful move. Cecil had been less
well-known than Gilbert: but far better known than a Mr. Fraser and a
Mr. Beamish, a pair of cranks against whom Sir Alfred Mond brought a
libel action in 1919 for having--in a placard shown in a window in a
back street--called him a traitor and accused him of having traded
with the enemy.

In this case Sir Alfred Mond (of the Mond Nickel Company) giving
evidence: "said that he always disregarded charges made by
irresponsible persons. Charges had been made against him in the _New
Witness_ which was edited by Mr. Gilbert Chesterton. All the world
regarded Mr. Chesterton as 'irresponsible,' but he was certainly
amusing, and he (the witness) had read most of his books. He had once
procured with some difficulty a copy of the _New Witness."_ HIS
LORDSHIP--Did Mr. Chesterton charge the witness with being a traitor?
Mr. SMITH (Counsel for the defence)--Yes, in the _New Witness."_

"Irresponsible" was not quite the _mot juste_. The unfortunate Fraser
and Beamish were not of the metal to win that or any case in that or
any court. There was a kind of solemn buffoonery in choosing these
two as responsible opponents in preference to the irresponsible G.K.
Chesterton. At any rate damages of £5000 were given against
them--which gives some measure of the risk G.K. took in making
exactly the same attacks.

Gilbert had not so much natural buoyancy as Cecil: he got far less
fun out of making these attacks. Still less had he the recklessness
that made Cecil indifferent even to the charge of inaccuracy. That
charge was in fact the only one that Gilbert feared. Writing to a
contributor whose article he had held back in order to verify an
accusation made in it, Gilbert remarked that he had no fear of a
lawsuit when he was certain of his facts: he did not fear fine or
imprisonment:--he had one fear only, "I am afraid of being answered."

There was another thing he feared: hurting or distressing his
friends. This was especially a danger for one, so many of whose
friends were also his opponents in politics or religion: and who was
now editing a paper of so controversial a character. With H. G. Wells
he had a real bond of affection, and an interesting correspondence
with and about him illustrates all Gilbert's qualities; consideration
for his subordinates: for his friendships; concern for the integrity
of his paper: sense of responsibility to Cecil's memory.

During an editorial absence the assistant editor, Mr. Titterton, had
accepted a series of articles called "Big Little H. G. Wells" from
Edwin Pugh, which seemed to be turning into an attack on Wells
instead of an appreciation. Chesterton wrote to Mr. Titterton and
simultaneously to Wells himself--


   The sudden demands of other duties, which I really could not see
   how to avoid, has prevented my attending to the _New Witness_ lately:
   and I have only just heard, on the telephone, that you have written a
   letter to the paper touching an unfortunate difference between you
   and Edwin Pugh. I don't yet know the contents of your letter but of
   course I have told my _locum tenens_ that it is to be printed
   whatever it is, this week or next. I am really exceedingly distressed
   to have been out of the business at the time; but if you knew the
   circumstances I think you would see the difficulty; and my editorial
   absence has not been a holiday. As it is, I agreed to the general
   idea of a study of your work by Pugh; and I confess it never even
   crossed my mind that anybody would write such a thing except as a
   tribute to your genius and the intellectual interest of the subject;
   nor can I believe it now. It may strike you as so ironical as to be
   incredible; but it is really one of those ironies that are also
   facts, that I rather welcomed the idea of a criticism in the paper
   (which so often differs from you) from a modernist and collectivist
   standpoint more like your own. I should imagine Pugh would agree with
   you more than I do, and not less. I will not prejudge the quarrel
   till I understand more of it; but I now write at once to tell you
   that I would not dream of tolerating anything meant to be a mere
   personal attack on you, even if I resigned my post on the point; and
   I had already written to the office to say so. But I do not believe
   for a moment that Pugh means any such thing; I regarded him as a
   strong Wellsian and even more of an admirer than myself; though he
   might be so modern as to use a familiar and mixed method of
   portraiture, which is too modern for my tastes, but which many use
   besides he. For the moment I suggest a possible misunderstanding,
   which he may well correct by a further explanation. I had said
   something myself in my weekly article, demurring to a possible
   undervaluing of you, long before I heard of your own letter. Even
   when I am in closer touch with things, of course, many things appear
   in the paper with which I wholly disagree; but the notion of a mere
   campaign against you would always have seemed to me as abominable and
   absurd as it does now; I do not believe any one can entertain it; and
   certainly I do not. I am perfectly willing to do you anything that
   can fairly be shown to be justice, whether it were explanation or
   apology or anything else. This is all I can say without your letter
   and Pugh's side of the case; but I feel I should say this at once.

   Yours sincerely,


   P.S. I have arranged for your letter to appear in next week's
   number; but I may have more light on Pugh's attitude by then.

To Titterton he wrote:

   . . . I do hope this work will not turn into anything that looks
   like a mere attack on Wells, especially in the rather realistic and
   personal modern manner, which I am perhaps too Victorian myself to
   care very much about. I do not merely feel this because I have
   managed to keep Wells as a friend on the whole. I feel it much more
   (and I know you are a man to understand such sentiments) because I
   have a sort of sense of honour about him as an enemy, or at least a
   potential enemy. We are so certain to collide in controversial
   warfare, that I have a horror of his thinking I would attack him with
   anything but fair controversial weapons. My feeling is so entirely
   consistent with a faith in Pugh's motives, as well as an admiration
   of his talents, that I honestly believe I could explain this to him
   without offence. . . .

   I am honestly in a very difficult position on the _New Witness_,
   because it is physically impossible for me really to edit it, and
   also do enough outside work to be able to edit it unpaid, as well as
   having a little over to give it from time to time. What we should
   have done without the loyalty and capacity of you and a few others I
   can't imagine. I cannot oversee everything that goes into the
   paper; . . . I cannot resign, without dropping as you truly said, the
   work of a great man who is gone; and who, I feel, would wish me to
   continue it. It is like what Stevenson said about marriage and its
   duties: "There is no refuge for you; not even suicide." But I should
   have to consider even resignation, if I felt that the acceptance of
   Pugh's generosity really gave him the right to print something that I
   really felt bound to disapprove. It may be that I am needlessly
   alarmed over a slip or two of the pen, in vivid descriptions of a
   very odd character, and that Pugh really admires his Big Little H. G.
   as much as I thought he did at the beginning of the business. . . .
   If the general impression on the reader's mind is of the Big Wells
   and not the Little Wells, I think the doubt I mean would really be

Somehow the letter to Titterton got into the hands of a Mr. Hennessy
who, after Gilbert's death, sent it to Wells.

Wells wrote, "Thank you very much for that letter of G.K.C.'s. It is
exactly like him. From first to last he and I were very close friends
and never for a moment did I consider him responsible for Pugh's
pathetic and silly little outbreak. I never knew anyone so steadily
true to form as G.K.C."

Besides the cleansing of public life two other things were seen as
vital by the _New Witness_, the restoration of well-distributed
property and the restoration of liberty. Under the heading
"Reconstruction of Property" Belloc set out a series of proposals,
highly practical and very far from what is usually called
revolutionary: that savings for instance made on a small scale should
be helped by a very high rate of interest; that the purchase by small
men of small parcels of land or businesses or houses should be freed
from legal charges while these should be made heavier for those who
purchased on a large scale thus encouraging small property and
checking huge accumulation. He pointed out how vast sums could be
found for such subsidies out of the money spent today on an education
which the poor detested for their children and which most of the
wealthy admitted to be an abject failure. Most of those, he noted,
who oppose Distributism do so on the ground that the proposals are
unpractical or revolutionary, which generally means that they have
not examined the proposals. His own were certainly practical and
would by many be called reactionary. But he admitted one
doubt--besides the overwhelming difficulty of turning the current of
modern Socialism--the doubt whether Englishmen from long disuse had
not lost the appetite for property.

Chesterton's own line of approach to the double problem was also
twofold. In a volume of Essays published near the end of the war and
called _The Utopia of Usurers_ he remarked: "That anarchic future
which the more timid Tories professed to fear has already fallen upon
us. We are ruled by ignorant people."

The old aristocracy of England, in his view, had made many mistakes
but certain things they had understood very well. The modern
governing class "cannot face a fact, or follow an argument, or feel
a tradition; but least of all can they, upon any persuasion read
through a plain impartial book, English or foreign, that is not
specially written to soothe their panic or to please their pride."
There had been reality in the claim of the old aristocracy to
understand matters not known to the people. They had read history;
they were familiar with other languages and other lands. They had a
great tradition of foreign diplomacy. Even the study of philosophy
and theology, today confined to a handful of experts, was not alien
to them. On all this had rested what right they had to govern. But
today "They rule them by the smiling terror of an ancient secret.
They smile and smile but they have forgotten the secret."

On the other hand the ordinary workman had the advantage over his
probably millionaire master by the necessity of knowing something. He
must be able to use his tools, he must know "enough arithmetic to
know when prices have risen." The hard business of living taught him
something. Give him a chance of more through property and liberty and
see what he will build on that foundation. The war had already shown
not only the courage of our men but their contrivance: their trench
newspapers, songs and jests: their initiative as sailors and as
airmen: at home the same thing was happening. Allotments had sprung
up everywhere and solved the problem of potato shortage. Men were
doing for themselves a rough kind of building. The inclination to get
away from the machine and do things oneself was on the increase.

Armistice and the men's return were heralded by outdoor tea-parties
with ropes stretched across the streets for safety. The outburst of
pageants was spontaneous and national. "It is time," said Chesterton,
"for an army of amateurs; for England is perishing of the
professionals." Vitality seemed to be flowing back into national
life, but Bureaucracy does not love vitality. Agitated Town Councils
met and stopped the tea-parties; fought against street markets
through which allotment holders could sell their produce cheaply; put
heavy rates on land reclaimed and buildings erected by hard work.
Town families living in single rooms had secured plots on building
estates and run up shacks for themselves and their families. They
were forbidden to live in these dwellings--only intended as
temporary, but far more healthy than living eight people to a room in
a slum. The _New Witness_ suspected that the real objection in the
eyes of Councillors was a lowering of the value of neighbouring plots
for wealthier purchasers.

Worst of all, the allotments were taken: fields sold for speculative
building, land dug in public parks taken away in the name of
"amenities." The little spark that could have been fanned into a
flame was crushed out.

An episode of a few years later best illustrates the spirit
Chesterton was fighting. In 1926 a threat arose to the traffic
monopoly from soldiers who put their war gratuities into the purchase
of omnibuses which they drove themselves. The London General Omnibus
Company decided to crush them and with the aid of a Government
Commission succeeded. Chesterton's paper followed the struggle with
passionate interest. Just as he believed that the small shop actually
served the public better than the large, so too he believed that
these owner-drivers would serve it better than the Combine. But if it
could have been proved that the Combine was more efficient Gilbert
would still have championed the Independents. It was better for the
Community that men should take responsibility and initiative for
themselves even if the work could be done more efficiently by wage
slaves. To his dismay he found that the Trade Unions did not dream of
applying this test and that they were aligned against the Pirates--as
the independent owners were usually called.

He had always been an ardent supporter of the Trade Unions. To him it
had seemed they were trying to do the work of the ancient Guilds
under far more difficult conditions. But after the war for the first
time a little note of doubt creeps into his voice when he is speaking
of them. They were still vocal for the rights of labour, but they had
begun to lay stress exclusively on the less important of those rights.

Writing of the loss of the allotments he suggested in one article
that the Trades Unions might well use some part of their funds in
purchasing land to be held in perpetuity by their members. But I doubt
if he much expected that they would do so. Many Trade Unionists were
working for the Bus Company and were more concerned about their
conditions of work than about the handful of drivers who were their
own masters. But the Unions had begun to stress almost solely the
question of hours and of wages; to fight for good conditions but no
longer for control or ownership: to demand security but to agree to
abandon many of their rights in return.

It was a chill fear and for long he resisted it, but in these
terrible years it had begun to shake him. Were the people of England
losing the appetite for freedom and for property? Were the Trades
Unions, from lack of leadership and confusion of thought, beginning
to accept the Servile State?


Rome via Jerusalem

SHORTLY AFTER THE war Gilbert and Frances set out on their travels,
going in 1919 to Palestine, home through Italy early in 1920, and
starting out again the following year for a lecture tour in the
United States.

To his friendship with Maurice Baring Gilbert owed their being able
to make the first of these journeys as well as much else. The picture
entitled "Conversation Piece" of Chesterton, Belloc and Baring is
well known. Was it Chesterton himself who christened it "Baring,
Overbearing and Past Bearing?" Many elements united the three in a
close friendship: love of literature, love of Europe, a common view
of the philosophy of history and of life. Frances Chesterton often
said that of all her husband's friends she thought there was none he
loved better than Maurice Baring. They often wrote ballades
together--a French form which they, with Phillimore and others, had
re-popularised in English. A telegram from Gilbert refusing a
celebration runs like a refrain:

   Prince, Yorkshire holds me now
   By Yorkshire hams I'm fed
   I can't assist your row
   I send ballades instead.

These "Ballades Urbane" were a feature in the _New Witness_--but many
of those the three friends composed were strictly not for publication
but recited to friends behind closed doors. Gilbert's memory was
useful: he knew all his own and the others: Once Belloc forgot the
Envoi to one of his own ballades and Gilbert finished it for him.
Even to Maurice Baring, G.K. wrote less often than he intended and
one apologetic ballade carries the refrain:

   I write no letters to the men I love.

   I have always fancied that Maurice Baring gave Gilbert the idea for
   his story _The Man Who Knew Too Much_. First in the diplomatic
   service, then doing splendidly as an airman in the war, a member of
   the great banking family, related to most of the aristocracy and
   intimate with most of the rest, he is like the hero of the book in a
   sort of detachment, a slight irony about a world that he has not
   cared to conquer. Impossible for a mere acquaintance to say whether
   he views that world with all the disillusionment of Chesterton's
   hero--but anyhow such a suggestion from life is never more than a
   hint for creative art. Another side is seen in the _Autobiography_--
   in the stories of Maurice Baring plunging into the sea in evening
   dress on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, and of the smashing
   by Gilbert of a wine-glass that became in retrospect a priceless
   goblet (which had "stood by Charlemagne's great chair and served St.
   Peter at High Mass") and now inspired the refrain:

   I like the sound of breaking glass.

A good deal of glass was broken by the stones of this group of men
whose own house was made of tolerably strong materials.

There is quite a bundle of Mr. Baring's letters to Gilbert, and, in
spite of the apologetic ballade, a fair number of answers. Two of
these last are written early in 1919, the second of which opens the
question of the Jerusalem visit:

   May 23, 1919


   I am the Prince of unremembered towers destroyed before the birth
   of Babylon; I am also the (writer) of unremembered letters, and to a
   much greater extent the designer and imaginer of unwritten letters:
   and I cannot remember whether I ever acknowledged properly your
   communications about Claudel, especially your interesting remarks
   about the comparative coolness of Henri de Regnier about him. It
   struck me because I think it is part of something I have noticed
   myself; a curious and almost premature conservatism in the older
   generation of revolutionaries, particularly when they were pagan
   revolutionaries. Not that I suppose de Regnier is particularly old or
   in the stock sense a revolutionist; but I think you will know the
   break between the generations to which I refer. I remember having
   exactly the same experience the only time I ever talked to Swinburne.
   I had regarded (and resisted) him in my boyhood as a sort of
   Antichrist in purple, like Nero holding his lyre, and I found him
   more like a very well-read Victorian old maid, almost entirely a
   _laudator temporis acti_ disposed to say that none of the young men
   would ever come up to Tennyson--which may be quite true for all I
   know. I fancy it has something to do with the very fact that their
   revolt was pagan, and being temporal was also temporary. When that
   particular fashion in caps of liberty has gone out, they have nothing
   to fall back on but the feeling which Swinburne himself puts into the
   mouth of the pagan on the day when Constantine issued the

   "But to me their new device is barren, the days are bare
   Things long gone over suffice, and men forgotten that were."

   I only tell you all this because you might find it amusing to keep
   an eye on the _New Statesman_ as well as the _New Witness_, where
   there is a small repetition of the same thing. Bernard Shaw has
   written an article which is supposed to be about his view of me and
   Socialism; but which may be said more truly to be about his blindness
   to Hilary and his Servile State. It is quite startling to me to find
   how wholly he misses Hilary's point; and how wildly he falls back on
   a sort of elderly impatience with our juvenile paradox and
   fantasticality. I shall answer him as abusively as my great personal
   liking for him will allow and I think Hilary is going to do the same;
   so if you ever see such papers, you might enjoy the fun.

   Yours always,



   Thank you ever so much for your interesting letter. I think you are
   right every time about Gosse and Claudel; or rather about Claudel and
   Gosse. For though I think Gosse a very valuable old Victorian in his
   way, I do not think he is on the same scale as the things that have
   lately been happening in the world; and Claudel is one of them. He
   has happened like a great gun going off; and I think I saw a line of
   his on the subject of such a discharge of artillery in the war. It
   ran, "And that which goes forth is France; terrible as the Holy
   Ghost." I doubt if Gosse has ever seen that France even in a flash
   and a bang; I don't see how he could. Remember the religion in which
   he grew up, by his own very graphic account of it; a man is not
   entirely emancipated from such very positive Puritanism by anything
   so negative as Agnosticism. Nothing but a religion can cast out a
   religion. Being so sensitive on behalf of Renan is simply not
   understanding the great historical passions about a heresiarch. It
   means that famous intellectuals must not hate each other; because
   they all belong to the Saville Club. Please do not think I mean
   merely that Gosse is a snob; I think he is a jolly old gentleman and
   a good critic of French poetry; but not of _Gesta Dei per Francos_.
   Your points against him are quite logical; I suppose the controversy
   will not be conducted in public, or I should feel inclined to join in
   it. Anyhow, I wish it could be continued between us as a conversation
   in private, for I have long wanted to talk to you about serious

   Meanwhile, as not wholly unconnected with the serious things, could
   you possibly do me a great favour? It is very far from being the
   first great favour you have done me; and I should fear that anyone
   less magnanimous would fancy I only wrote to you about such things.
   But the situation is this. An excellent offer has been made to me to
   write a book about Jerusalem, not political but romantic and
   religious, so to speak; I conceive it as mostly about pilgrimages and
   crusades, in poetical prose, and working up to Allenby's great
   entrance. The offer includes money to go to Jerusalem but cannot
   include all the political or military permissions necessary to go
   there. I have another motive for wanting to go there, which is much
   stronger than the desire to write the book though I do think I could
   do it in the right way and, what matters more, on the right side.
   Frances is to come with me, and all the doctors in creation tell her
   she can only get rid of her neuritis if she goes to some such place
   and misses part of an English winter. I would do anything to bring it
   off, for that reason alone. You are a man who knows everybody; do you
   know anybody on Allenby's staff; or know anybody who knows anybody on
   Allenby's staff; or know anybody who would know anybody who would
   know anything about it? I am told that it cannot be done as yet in
   the ordinary way by Cook's; and that the oracle must be worked in
   some such fashion. If you should be so kind as to refer to any
   worried soldier or official, I should like it understood that I am
   not nosing about touching any diplomatic or military matter; France
   in Syria, or any copy for the _New Witness_. I only want to write
   semi-historical rhetoric on the spot. If you could possibly help in
   this matter, I really think you would be helping things you yourself
   care about; and one person, not myself, who deserves it. I will not
   say it would be killing two birds with one stone, which might seem a
   tragic metaphor; but bringing one bird at least to life; and allowing
   the other bird, who is a goose, to go on a wild goose-chase.

   Yours always,


It was much needed change and refreshment for both Gilbert and
Frances. Her Diary shows a vivid enjoyment of all the scenes and
happenings: going into the Church of the Nativity with a door "so low
you can hardly get in--this done to prevent the cattle from straying
in"; seeing camels on the roof of a convent; standing godmother to an
Armenian carpenter's baby:

   The officiator in a cape of white silk embroidered in gold and a
   wonderful crown supposed to represent the temple. The godfather (a
   young man) was in a red velvet gown. After a good many prayers and
   much chanting the babe, beautifully dressed, was taken to the font
   (which was in the side of the wall) and there were more prayers and
   chanting. Then cushions were laid on the floor and the child
   undressed, all of us assisting. At this point I was asked to stand
   Godmother and gladly consented. The baby, by this time quite naked,
   was handed to the priest who immersed him completely under the water
   three times--giving him the name of Pedros (Peter). Before being
   re-clothed he was anointed with oil--the forebead, eyes, nose, mouth,
   ears, heart, hands and feet all being signed with the Cross. The
   child was by this time crying lustily and it was some business to get
   him dressed, especially as he was swaddled in bands very completely.
   When ready he was handed to me and he lay stiff in my arms whilst I
   held two large lighted candles. I followed the priest from the font
   to the little altar, where a chain and a little gold cross were bound
   round his head (signifying that he was now a Christian). Then the
   priest touched his lips with the sacramental wafer, and touched his
   nose with myrrh. After the Blessing, we left the church in a
   procession, the godfather carrying the baby. At the threshold of the
   house the priest took it and delivered it to the mother who sat
   waiting for it, also holding the two candles. Again the priests
   muttered a few prayers and blessed mother, child and godparents. The
   father is an Armenian carpenter by trade--very nice people. Mother
   very pretty. The parents insisted that we should stay for
   refreshments and we were handed a very nice liquor in lovely little
   glasses and a very beautiful sort of pastry. Afterwards cups of weak
   tea and cakes.

The various rites and ceremonies in Jerusalem interested Frances
deeply but the Diary shows no awareness of the differences that
separated the various kinds of Christians. The Diary ends with the
return through Rome where she and I met, to the surprise of both of
us, in the street, while a friend travelling with them met my mother.
"Both meetings were miraculous," Frances comments. Since the letters
to my mother during Gilbert's illness in 1915 we had heard no more
about his spiritual pilgrimage. There was much eager talk at this
meeting but no opportunity occurred and certainly none was sought for
any confidences. As we waved goodbye after their departing train my
mother said thoughtfully: "Frances did rather play off Jerusalem
against Rome, didn't she?"

In fact, as we learned later, this visit to Jerusalem had been a
determining factor in Gilbert's conversion. Many people both in and
outside the Church had been wondering what had so long delayed him.
The mental progress from the vague Liberalism of the _Wild Knight_ to
the splendid edifice of _Orthodoxy_ had been a swift one. For the
book was written in 1908 and already several years earlier in
_Heretics_ and in his newspaper contests with Blatchford, Gilbert
Chesterton had shown his firm belief in the Godhead of Our Lord, in
Sacraments, in Priesthood and in the Authority of the Church. But it
was not yet the Catholic and Roman Church. There is a revealing
passage in the _Autobiography:_ "And then I happened to meet Lord
Hugh Cecil. I met him at the house of Wilfrid Ward, that great
clearing house of philosophies and theologies. . . . I listened to
Lord Hugh's very lucid statements of his position. . . . The
strongest impression I received was that he was a Protestant. I was
myself still a thousand miles from being a Catholic; but I think it
was the perfect and solid Protestantism of Lord Hugh that fully
revealed to me that I was no longer a Protestant."

The time that thousand miles took is a real problem--the years before
the illness during which he talked of joining the Church, the seven
further years before he joined it. Cecil Chesterton had been received
before the war--just at the beginning of the Marconi Case, in
fact--and the entire outlook of both brothers had seemed to make this
inevitable, not only theologically but sociologically and
historically. Alike in their outlook on Europe today or on the great
ages of the past, it was a Catholic civilisation based on Catholic
theology that seemed to them the only true one for a full and rich
human development.

I think in this matter a special quality and its defect could be seen
in Gilbert. For most people intensity of thought is much more
difficult than action. With him it was the opposite. He used his mind
unceasingly, his body as little as possible. I remember one day going
to see them when he had a sprained ankle and learning from Frances
how happy it made him because nobody could bother him to take
exercise. The whole of practical life he left to her. But joining the
Church was not only something to be thought about, it was something
really practical that had to be done, and here Frances could not help

"He will need Frances," said Father O'Connor to my mother, "to take
him to church, to find his place in his prayer-book, to examine his
conscience for him when he goes to Confession. He will never take all
those hurdles unaided." Frances never lifted a finger to prevent
Gilbert from joining the Catholic Church. But obviously before she
was convinced herself she could not help him. The absence of help was
in this case a very positive hindrance.

I remember one day on a picnic Gilbert coming up to me with a very
disconsolate expression and asking where Frances was. I said, "I
don't know but I can easily find her. Do you want her?" He answered,
"I don't want her now but I may want her at any minute." Many men
depend upon their wives but very few men admit it so frankly. And if
he was unpractical to a point almost inconceivable, Frances herself
could be called practical only in comparison with him. The confused
mass of papers through which she had to hunt to find some important
document lingers in the memory.

Another element that made action lag behind conviction with
Chesterton was his perpetual state of overwork. Physically inactive,
his mind was never barren but issued in an immense output: several
books every year besides editing and articles: there were even two
years in which no fewer than six books were published. To focus his
attention on the deepest matters, it was vital to escape from the net
of work and worry.

Returning from Jerusalem, Gilbert wrote from Alexandria to Maurice


   To quote a poet we agree in thinking ridiculously underrated by
   recent fashions, my boat is on the shore and my bark is on the sea;
   but before I go, Tom Moore (if I may so by a flight of fancy describe
   you), I feel impelled to send you this hurried line to thank you, so
   far as this atrocious hotel pen will allow me, for the wonderful time
   I have had in Palestine, which is so largely owing to you. There is
   also something even more important I want very much to discuss with
   you; because of certain things that have been touched on between us
   in former times. I will only say here that my train of thought, which
   really was one of thought and not fugitive emotion, came to an
   explosion in the Church of the Ecce Homo in Jerusalem; a church which
   the guidebooks call new and the newspapers call Latin. I fear it may
   be at least a month before we meet; for the journey takes a fortnight
   and may be prolonged by a friend ill in Paris; and I must work the
   moment I return to keep a contract. But if we could meet by about
   then I could thank you better for many things.

   Yours illegibly,


The contract that had to be kept was in all probability the writing
of _The New Jerusalem_. It is a glorious book. Until I read them more
carefully I had always accepted G.K.'s own view that books of travel
were a weak spot in his multifarious output. He said of himself that
he always tended to see such enormous significance in every detail
that he might just as well describe railway signals near Beaconsfield
as the light of sunset over the Golden Horn. But _The New Jerusalem_
is no mere book of description. It is the book of a man seeing a
vision. To understand how this vision broke upon him we have first to
try to understand something jealously hidden by Gilbert
Chesterton--his own suffering. Even as a boy--in the days of the
toothache and still more torturing earache--he had written

   Though pain be stark and bitter
   And days in darkness creep
   Not to that depth I sink me
   That asks the world to weep.

So much did he acclaim himself enrolled under the banner of joy that
I think most people miss the companion picture to the favourite one
of the Happy Warrior. No warrior can fight untiringly through a long
lifetime without wounds, without temptations to abandon the struggle
and seek a less glorious peace. If in what are commonly called
practical matters Chesterton was weak, he was in this almost
superhumanly strong. His fame did not rest upon success in the field
of sociology and politics. He could have increased it by neglecting
the good of England for which he fought, and living in literature,
poetry and fantasy. Here all acclaimed him great, whereas most
tolerated or despised as a hobby or a weakness the work he was
pouring into the fight for England. In this time after the Armistice
it was by a naked effort of the will that he held his ground. The
loss of Cecil with his light-hearted courage, his energy and
buoyancy, was immeasurable. And I know--for we talked of it
together--that Frances had not the complete sympathy with Gilbert
over the paper that she had over his other work. It seemed to her too
great a drain on his time and energy: it made the writing of his
important books more difficult. She would not, she told me, try to
stop it as she knew how much he cared, but she would have rejoiced if
he had chosen to let it go.

And the fight that he had almost enjoyed in Cecil's company had
become a harder one, not merely because he was alone but because the
nature of the foe had changed. He was fighting now not individual
abuses but the mood of pessimism that had overtaken our civilisation.
In an article entitled _Is It Too Late?_ he defined this pessimism as
"a paralysis of the mind; an impotence intrinsically unworthy of a
free man." He stated powerfully the case of those who held that our
civilisation was dying and that it was too late to make any further

   The future belongs to those who can find a real answer to that real
   case. . . . The omens and the auguries are against us. There is no
   answer but one; that omens and auguries are heathen things; and that
   we are not heathens. . . . We are not lost unless we lose
   ourselves. . . . Great Alfred, in the darkness of the Ninth Century,
   when the Danes were beating at the door, wrote down on his copy of
   Boethius his denial of the doctrine of fate. We, who have been
   brought up to see all the signs of the times pointing to improvement,
   may live to see all the signs in heaven and earth pointing the other
   way. If we go on it must be in another name than that of the Goddess
   of Fortune.

It was that other Name, in which he had so long believed, that he
realised with the freshness of novelty on this journey to Jerusalem.
He made in the Holy City and in the fields of Palestine a new
discovery of Christ and of the Christian Thing. As he looked over the
Dead Sea and almost physically realised what evil meant, he heard the
voice of the divine Deliverer saying to the demons: "Go forth and
trouble him not any more." In the cave at Bethlehem he realised the
"little local infancy" whereby the creator of the world had chosen to
redeem the world. All through the book there are glimpses of what he
tells more fully in _The Everlasting Man_. Between the two books all
that he had seen and thought in Palestine lay in his mind, and grew
there, and fructified for our understanding. But he had seen it all
in that first vision.

Jerusalem first impressed Chesterton as a mediaeval city and from its
turrets he could readily picture Godfrey de Bouillon, Richard the
Lion-Hearted and Saint Louis of France. Through the Crusades he views
what was meant by Christendom and sets over against it at once the
greatness and the barrenness of Islam:

   The Moslem had one thought, and that a most vital one; the
   greatness of God which levels all men. But the Moslem had not one
   thought to rub against another, because he really had not another. It
   is the friction of two spiritual things, of tradition and invention,
   or of substance and symbol, from which the mind takes fire. The
   Creeds condemned as complex have something like the secret of sex;
   they can breed thoughts.

Today we of Christendom have fallen below ourselves but yet we have
something left of the power to create whether it be a theology or a
civilisation. Talking to an old Arab in the desert, Chesterton heard
him say that in all these years of Turkish rule the Turks had never
given to the people a cup of cold water. And as the old man spoke he
heard the clank of pipes and he knew that it was the English soldiers
who were bringing water through the desert to Jerusalem.

A chapter on Zionism discusses with sympathy to both parties the
difficulties of the Jewish settlement in Palestine. In Palestine he
found his Jewish friend and co-worker on the _New Witness_, Dr. Eder,
who had gone there ardent in the cause of Zionism; and Chesterton
himself remained convinced that some system akin to Zionism was the
only possible solution of this enormous problem--possibly a system of
Jewish cantons in various countries. But he was equally convinced
that the English government was destroying the chances of success for
Zionism by sending Jews as governors in England's name to that or any
other Eastern country.

Even in this book there is struck at times a note of the doom he
feared was overhanging us. He heard "Islam crying from the turret and
Israel wailing from the wall," and yet he seemed too to hear a voice
from all the peoples of Jerusalem "bidding us weep not for them, who
have faith and clarity and a purpose, but weep for ourselves and for
our children." In his fighting articles he had asserted the supremacy
of the human will over fate: in this book he sees how that will must
be renewed, purified and made once more mighty by the same power that
built the ancient civilisation of Christendom.

Jerusalem gave to Chesterton the fuller realisation of two great
facts. First he saw that the supernatural was needed not only to
conquer the powers of evil but even to restore the good things that
should be natural to man. As he put it in the later book, "Nature may
not have the name of Isis; Isis may not be really looking for Osiris.
But it is true that Nature is really looking for something. Nature is
always looking for the supernatural." Yet man, even strengthened by
the supernatural, cannot suffice for the fight, without a leader who
is more than man. In the land of Christ's childhood, His teaching and
His suffering, there came to Gilbert Chesterton "a vision more vivid
than a man walking unveiled upon the mountains, seen of men and
seeing; a visible God."

All visions must fade into the light of common day, and the return
home meant the resumption of hard labour.

"For the moment," wrote Gilbert to Maurice Baring, "as Balzac said, I
am labouring like a miner in a landslide. Normally I would let it
slide. But if I did in this case I should break two or three really
important contracts, which I find I have returned from Jerusalem just
in time to save."

(A few years later when Sheed and Ward started, Gilbert wanted to
write a number of books for us to publish. His secretary found that
he had then thirty books contracted for with a variety of publishers!)

He had got home in April 1920: and a lecture tour was planned for the
United States at the beginning of the following year. The eight
months between saw the completion and publication of _The Uses of
Diversity_ (collected essays), _The New Jerusalem_ and _The
Superstition of Divorce_. And still went on the _New Witness_, the
_Illustrated London News_, articles, introductions, lectures,
conferences. Two letters to Maurice Baring clearly belong to these


   I am so awfully distressed to hear you are unwell again; I do not
   know whether I ought even to bother you with my sentiments; beyond my
   sympathy; but if it is not too late, or too early, I will call on you
   early next week; probably Monday, but I will let you know for certain
   before then. I would have called on you long ago, let alone written,
   but for this load of belated work which really seems to bury me day
   after day. I never realised before that business can really block out
   much bigger things. As you may possibly guess, I want to consider my
   position about the biggest thing of all, whether I am to be inside it
   or outside it. I used to think one could be an Anglo-Catholic and
   really inside it; but if that was (to use an excellent phrase of your
   own) only a Porch, I do not think I want a Porch, and certainly not a
   Porch standing some way from the building. A Porch looks so silly,
   standing all by itself in a field. Since then, unfortunately, there
   have sprung up round it real ties and complications and difficulties;
   difficulties that seemed almost duties. But I will not bother you
   with all that now; and I particularly do not want you to bother
   yourself, especially to answer this unless you want to. I know I have
   your sympathy; and please God, I shall get things straight. Sometimes
   one suspects the real obstacles have been the weaknesses one knows to
   be wrong, and not the doubts that might be relatively right, or at
   least rational. I suppose all this is a common story; and I hope so;
   for wanting to be uncommon is really not one of my weaknesses. They
   are worse, probably, but they are not that. There are other and in
   the ordinary sense more cheerful things I would like to talk of;
   things I think we could both do for causes we certainly agree about.
   Meanwhile, thank you for everything; and be sure I think of you very

   Yours always,



   This is the shortest, hastiest and worst written letter in the
   world. It only tells you three things: (1) that I thank you a
   thousand times for the book; (2) that I have to leave for America for
   a month or two, earlier than I expected; But I am glad, for I shall
   see something of Frances, without walls of work between us; and (3)
   that I have pretty well made up my mind about the thing we talked
   about. Fortunately, the thing we talked about can be found all over
   the world.

   Yours always,


I will not write here of the American scene but will talk of it in a
later chapter along with the second tour Gilbert made in the States.
It seems best to complete now the story of his journey of the mind. A
reserved man tells more of himself indirectly than directly. Readers
of the _Autobiography_ complain that it is concerned with everything
in the world except G. K. Chesterton. You can certainly search its
pages in vain for any account of the process of his conversion: for
that you must look elsewhere: in the poems to Our lady, in _The
Catholic Church and Conversion_, in _The Well and the Shallows_, and
in the letters here to be quoted.

In _The Catholic Church and Conversion_ he sketches the three phases
through which most converts pass, all of which he had himself
experienced. He sums them up as "patronizing the Church, discovering
the Church, and running away from the Church." In the first phase a
man is taking trouble ("and taking trouble has certainly never been a
particular weakness of mine") to find out the fallacy in most
anti-Catholic ideas. In the second stage he is gradually discovering
the great ideas enshrined in the Church and hitherto hidden from him.
"It is these numberless glimpses of great ideas, that have been
hidden from the convert by the prejudices of his provincial culture,
that constitute the adventurous and varied second stage of the
conversion. It is, broadly speaking, the stage in which the man is
unconsciously trying to be converted. And the third stage is perhaps
the truest and most terrible. It is that in which the man is trying
not to be converted. He has come too near to the truth, and has
forgotten that truth is a magnet, with the powers of attraction and

[* _The Catholic Church and Conversion_, p. 61.]

   To a certain extent it is a fear which attaches to all sharp and
   irrevocable decisions; it is suggested in all the old jokes about the
   shakiness of the bridegroom at the wedding or the recruit who takes
   the shilling and gets drunk partly to celebrate, but partly also to
   forget it. But it is the fear of a fuller sacrament and a mightier
   army. . . . *

[* Ibid., p. 65.]

   The man has exactly the same sense of having committed or
   compromised himself; or having been in a sense entrapped, even if he
   is glad to be entrapped. But for a considerable time he is not so
   much glad as simply terrified. It may be that this real psychological
   experience has been misunderstood by stupider people and is
   responsible for all that remains of the legend that Rome is a mere
   trap. But that legend misses the whole point of the psychology. It is
   not the Pope who has set the trap or the priests who have baited it.
   The whole point of the position is that the trap is simply the truth.
   The whole point is that the man himself has made his way towards the
   trap of truth, and not the trap that has run after the man. All steps
   except the last step he has taken eagerly on his own account, out of
   interest in the truth; and even the last step, or the last stage,
   only alarms him because it is so very true. If I may refer once more
   to a personal experience, I may say that I for one was never less
   troubled by doubts than in the last phase, when I was troubled by
   fears. Before that final delay I had been detached and ready to
   regard all sorts of doctrines with an open mind. Since that delay has
   ended in decision, I have had all sorts of changes in mere mood; and
   I think I sympathise with doubts and difficulties more than I did
   before. But I had no doubts or difficulties just before. I had only
   fears; fears of something that had the finality and simplicity of
   suicide. But the more I thrust the thing into the back of my mind,
   the more certain I grew of what Thing it was. And by a paradox that
   does not frighten me now in the least, it may be that I shall never
   again have such absolute assurance that the thing is true as I had
   when I made my last effort to deny it.*

[* Ibid., pp. 62-3.]

The whole of Catholic theology can be justified, says Gilbert, if you
are allowed to start with those two ideas that the Church is
popularly supposed to oppose: Reason and Liberty. "To become a
Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think. It
is so in exactly the same sense in which to recover from palsy is not
to leave off moving but to learn how to move." The convert has learnt
long before his conversion that the Church will not force him to
abandon his will. "But he is not unreasonably dismayed at the extent
to which he may have to use his will." This was the crux for Gilbert.
"There is in the last second of time or hairbreadth of space, before
the iron leaps to the magnet, an abyss full of all the unfathomable
forces of the universe. The space between doing and not doing such a
thing is so tiny and so vast."

Father Maturin said after his conversion that for at least ten years
before it the question had never been out of his mind for ten waking
minutes. It was about ten years since Gilbert had first talked to
Father O'Connor of his intention to join the Church, but in his case
thought on the subject could not have been so continuous. Still he
had time for patronising, discovery, and running away, all in
leisurely fashion. External efforts to help him had been worse than
useless: as he indicates in _The Catholic Church and Conversion_,
they had always put him back.

"Gilbert could not be hustled," says Maurice Baring of his whole
habit of mind and body.

"You could fluster Gilbert but not hustle him," says Father O'Connor.

They were both too wise to try.

In two letters Gilbert said that the two people who helped him most
at this time were Maurice Baring and Father Ronald Knox, who had both
gone through the same experience themselves.

Besides the positive mental processes of recognition, repulsion and
attraction exercised by the Church, Gilbert was affected to some
extent both by affection for the Church of England and disappointment
with it. The profound joy of his early conversion to Christianity was
linked with Anglicanism and so too were many friendships and the
continued attachment to it of Frances. But what he said to Maurice
Baring about a Porch is representative. Like Father Maturin he felt
he owed so much to his Anglican friends: he hated to stress overmuch
the revulsion from Anglicanism in the process of conversion. But it
did at this date contribute to the converging arguments.

He wrote to Maurice Baring:

   So many thanks for the sermons, which I will certainly return as
   you suggest. I had the other day a trying experience, and I think a
   hard case of casuistry; I am not sure that I was right; but also not
   by any means sure I was wrong. Long ago, before my present crisis, I
   had promised somebody to take part in what I took to be a small
   debate on labour. Too late, by my own carelessness, I found to my
   horror it had swelled into a huge Anglo-Catholic Congress at the
   Albert Hall. I tried to get out of it, but I was held to my promise.
   Then I reflected that I could only write (as I was already writing)
   to my Anglo-Catholic friends on the basis that I was one of them now
   in doubt about continuing such; and that their conference in some
   sense served the same purpose as their letters. What affected me
   most, however, was that by my own fault I had put them into a hole.
   Otherwise, I would not just now speak from or for their platform,
   just as I could not (as yet at any rate) speak from or for yours. So
   I spoke very briefly, saying something of what I think about social
   ethics. Whether or not my decision was right, my experience was
   curious and suggestive, though tragic; for I felt it like a farewell.
   There was no doubt about the enthusiasm of those thousands of
   Anglo-Catholics. But there was also no doubt, unless I am much
   mistaken, that many of them besides myself would be Roman Catholics
   rather than accept things they are quite likely to be asked to
   accept--for instance, by the Lambeth Conference. For though my own
   distress, as in most cases I suppose, has much deeper grounds than
   clerical decisions, yet if I cannot stay where I am, it will be a
   sort of useful symbol that the English Church has done something
   decisively Protestant or Pagan. I mean that to those to whom I cannot
   give my spiritual biography, I can say that the insecurity I felt in
   Anglicanism was typified in the Lambeth Conference. I am at least
   sure that much turns on that Conference, if not for me, for large
   numbers of those people at the Albert Hall. A young Anglo-Catholic
   curate has just told me that the crowd there cheered all references
   to the Pope, and laughed at every mention of the Archbishop of
   Canterbury. It's a queer state of things. I am concerned most,
   however, about somebody I value more than the Archbishop of
   Canterbury; Frances, to whom I owe much of my own faith, and to whom
   therefore (as far as I can see my way) I also owe every decent chance
   for the controversial defence of her faith. If her side can convince
   me, they have a right to do so; if not, I shall go hot and strong to
   convince her. I put it clumsily, but there is a point in my mind.
   Logically, therefore, I must await answers from Waggett and Gore as
   well as Knox and McNabb; and talk the whole thing over with her, and
   then act as I believe.

   This is a dusty political sort of letter, with nothing in it but
   what I think and nothing of what I feel. For that side of it, I can
   only express myself by asking for your prayers.

The accident of his having to speak at this Congress, where he was
received with enormous enthusiasm, probably led to a fuller analysis
of this element in his thought. I put here a letter he wrote to
Maurice Baring soon after his conversion, because it sums up the
Anglican question as he finally saw it:

   Feb. 14th, 1923

   Please forgive me for the delay; but I have been caught in a
   cataract of letters and work in connection with the new paper we are
   trying to start; and am now dictating this under conditions that make
   it impossible for it to resemble anything so personal and intimate as
   the great unwritten epistle to which you refer. But I will note down
   here very hurriedly and in a more impersonal way, some of the matters
   that have affected me in relation to the great problem.

   To begin with, I am shy of giving one of my deepest reasons because
   it is hard to put it without offence, and I am sure it is the wrong
   method to offend the wavering Anglo-Catholic. But I believe one of my
   strongest motives was mixed up with the idea of honour. I feel there
   is something mean about not making complete confession and
   restitution after a historic error and slander. It is not the same
   thing to withdraw the charges against Rome one by one, or restore the
   traditions to Canterbury one by one. Suppose a young prig refuses to
   live with his father or his friend or his wife, because wine is drunk
   in the house or there are Greek statues in the hall. Suppose he goes
   off on his own and develops broader ideas. On the day he drinks his
   first glass of wine, I think it is essential to his honour that he
   should go back to his father or his friend and say, "You are right
   and I was wrong, and we will drink wine together." It is not
   consonant with his honour that he should set up a house of his own
   with wine and statues and every parallel particular, and still treat
   the other as if he were in the wrong. That is mean because it is
   making the best of both; it is combining the advantages of being
   right with the advantages of having been wrong. Any analogy is
   imperfect; but I think you see what I mean.

   The larger version of this is that England has really got into so
   wrong a state, with its plutocracy and neglected populace and
   materialistic and Servile morality, that it must take a sharp turn
   that will be a sensational turn. No _evolution_ into Catholicism will
   have that moral effect. Christianity is the religion of repentance;
   it stands against modern fatalism and pessimistic futurism mainly in
   saying that a man can go back. If we do decidedly go back it will
   show that religion is alive. For the rest, I do not say much about
   the details of continuity and succession, because the truth is they
   did not much affect me. What I see is that we cannot complain of
   England suffering from being Protestant and at the same time claim
   that she has always been Catholic. That there has always been a High
   Church Party is true; that there has always been an Anglo-Catholic
   Party may be true, but I am not so sure of it. But there is one
   matter arising from that which I do think important. Even the High
   Church Party, even the Anglo-Catholic Party only confronts a
   particular heresy called Protestantism upon particular points. It
   defends ritual rightly or even sacramentalism rightly, because these
   are the things the Puritans attacked. If it is not the heresy of an
   age, at least it is only the anti-heresy of an age. But since I have
   been a Catholic, I have become conscious of being in a much vaster
   arsenal, full of arms against countless other potential enemies. The
   Church, as the Church and not merely as ordinary opinion, has
   something to say to philosophies which the merely High Church has
   never had occasion to think about. If the next movement is the very
   reverse of Protestantism, the Church will have something to say about
   it; or rather has already something to say about it. You might unite
   all High Churchmen on the High Church quarrel, but what authority is
   to unite them when the devil declares his next war on the world?

   Another quality that impresses me is the power of being decisive
   first and being proved right afterwards. This is exactly the quality
   a supernatural power would have; and I know nothing else in modern
   religion that has it. For instance, there was a time when I should
   have thought psychical enquiry the most reasonable thing in the
   world, and rather favourable to religion. I was afterwards convinced,
   by experience and not merely faith, that spiritualism is a practical
   poison. Don't people see that _when_ that is found in experience, a
   prodigious prestige accrues to the authority which, long before the
   experiment, did not pretend to enquire but simply said, "Drop it."
   We feel that the authority did not discover; it knew. There are a
   hundred other things of which that story is true, in my own
   experience. But the High Churchman has a perfect right to be a
   spiritualistic enquirer; only he has not a right to claim that his
   authority knew beforehand the truth about spiritualistic enquiry.

   Of course there are a hundred things more to say; indeed the
   greatest argument for Catholicism is exactly what makes it so hard to
   argue for it. It is the scale and multiplicity of the forms of truth
   and help that it has to offer. And perhaps, after all, the only thing
   that you and I can really say with profit is exactly what you
   yourself suggested; that we are men who have talked to a good many
   men about a good many things, and seen something of the world and the
   philosophies of the world and that we have not the shadow of a doubt
   about what was the wisest act of our lives.

This letter, as we have seen, was written afterwards. Meanwhile the
story of the last slow but by no means uncertain steps is best told
in a series of undated letters to Father Ronald Knox:


   It is hard not to have a silly feeling that demons, in the form of
   circumstances, get in the way of what concerns one most, and I have
   been distracted with details for which I have to be responsible, in
   connection with the _New Witness_, which is in a crisis about which
   shareholders etc. have to be consulted. I can't let my brother's
   paper, that stands for all he believed in, go without doing all I
   can; and I am trying to get it started again, with Belloc to run it
   if possible. But the matter of our meeting has got into every chink
   of my thoughts, even the pauses of talk on practical things. I could
   not explain myself at that meeting; and I want to try again now.

   I could not explain what I mean about my wife without saying much
   more. I see in principle it is not on the same level as the true
   Church; for nothing can be on the same level as God. But it is on
   quite a different level from social sentiments about friends and
   family. I have been a rottenly irresponsible person till I began to
   wear the iron ring of Catholic responsibilities. But I really have
   felt a responsibility about her, more serious than affection, let
   alone passion. First, because she gave me my first respect for
   sacramental Christianity; second, because she is one of the good
   who mysteriously suffer. . . . .

   I have, however, a more practical reason for returning to this
   point. So far as my own feelings go, I think I might rightly make
   application to be instructed as soon as possible; but I should not
   like to take so serious a step without reopening the matter with her,
   which I could do by the end of a week. I have had no opportunity
   before, because she has only just recovered from an illness, and is
   going away for a few days. But at about the end of next week, say,
   everything ought to be ready. Meanwhile I will write to you again, as
   I ought to have done before, but this tangle of business ties me up
   terribly just now. Perhaps you could tell me how I could arrange
   matters with some priest or religious in London, whose convenience it
   would suit if I came up once or twice a week, or whatever is
   required; or give me the address of someone to write to, if that is
   the correct way. There are priests at High Wycombe which is nearer;
   but I imagine they are very busy parochial clergy.

   I had meant to write to you about the convictions involved in a
   more abstract way, but I fear I have filled my letter with one
   personal point. But, as I say, I will write to you again about the
   other matters; and as they are more intellectual and less emotional,
   I hope I may be a little more coherent.

   Yours very sincerely,


   P.S. This has been delayed even longer than I thought, for business
   bothers of my own and the paper's, plus finishing a book and all my
   journalism, are bewildering me terribly.


   Please excuse this journalistic paper, but the letter-block seems
   undiscoverable at this time of night. I ought to have written before;
   but we have been in some family trouble; my father is very ill, and
   as he is an old man, my feelings are with him and my mother in a way
   more serious than anything except the matter of our correspondence.
   Essentially, of course, it does not so much turn the current of my
   thoughts as deepen it; to see a man so many million times better than
   I am, in every way, and one to whom I owe everything, under such a
   shadow makes me feel, on top of all my particular feelings, the
   shadow that lies on us all. I can't tell you what I feel of course;
   but I hope I may ask for your prayers for my people and for me. My
   father is the very best man I ever knew of that generation that never
   understood the new need of a spiritual authority; and lives almost
   perfectly by the sort of religion men had when rationalism was
   rational. I think he was always subconsciously prepared for the next
   generation having less theology than he has; and is rather puzzled at
   its having more. But I think he understood my brother's conversion
   better than my mother did; she is more difficult, and of course I
   cannot bother her just now. However, my trouble has a practical side,
   for which I originally mentioned it. As this may bring me to London
   more than I thought, it seems possible I might go there after all,
   instead of Wycombe, if I knew to whom to go. Also I find I stupidly
   destroyed your letter with the names of the priests at Wycombe to
   whom you referred me. Would it bother you very much to send me the
   names again, and any alternative London ones that occur to you; and I
   will let you know my course of action then. Please forgive the
   disorder of my writing--and feeling.

   Yours sincerely,



   I was just settling down three days ago to write a full reply to
   your last very kind letter, which I should have answered long before,
   when I received the wire that called me instantly to town. My father
   died on Monday; and since then I have been doing the little I can for
   my mother; but even that little involves a great deal of
   business--the least valuable sort of help. I will not attempt to tell
   you now all that this involves in connection with my deeper feelings
   and intentions; for I only send you this interim scribble as an
   excuse for delaying the letter I had already begun; and which nothing
   less than this catastrophe would have prevented me finishing. I hope
   to finish it in a few days. I am not sure whether I shall then be
   back in Beaconsfield; but if so it will be at a new address:

   Top Meadow

   Yours in haste,



   I feel horribly guilty in not having written before, and I do most
   earnestly hope you have not allowed my delay to interfere with any of
   your own arrangements. I have had a serious and very moving talk with
   my wife; and she is only too delighted at the idea of your visit in
   itself; in fact she really wants to know you very much.
   Unfortunately, it does not seem very workable at the time to which I
   suppose you referred. I imagine it more or less corresponds to next
   week; and we have only one spare bedroom yet, which is occupied by a
   nurse who is giving my wife a treatment that seems to be doing her
   good and which I don't want to stop if I can help it. I am sure you
   will believe that my regret about this difficulty is really not the
   conventional apology; though heaven knows all sorts of apologies are
   due to you. Touching the other idea of Lady Lovat's most generous
   invitation I am not so sure, as that again depends at the moment on
   the treatment; but of course I shall let Lady Lovat know very soon in
   any case; and make other arrangements, as you suggested. In our
   conversation my wife was all that I hope you will some day know her
   to be; she is incapable of wanting me to do anything but what I think
   right; and admits the same possibility for herself: but it is much
   more of a wrench for her, for she has been able to practise her
   religion in complete good faith; which my own doubts have prevented
   me from doing.

   I will write again very soon.

   Yours sincerely,


   P.S. I am ashamed to say this has been finished fully forty-eight
   hours after I meant it to go, owing to executor business. Nobody so
   unbusinesslike as I am ought to be busy.


   This is only a wild and hasty line to show I have not forgotten,
   and to ask you if it would be too late if I let you know in a day or
   two, touching your generous suggestion about your vacation. I shall
   know for certain, I think, at latest by the end of the week; but just
   at the moment it depends on things still uncertain, about a nurse who
   is staying here giving my wife a treatment of radiant heat--one would
   hardly think needed in this weather; but it seems to be doing her
   good, I am thankful to say. If this is pushing your great patience
   too far, please do not hesitate to make other arrangements if you
   wish to; and I shall no doubt be able to do the same. But I should
   love to accept your suggestion if possible.

   Yours sincerely,



   Just as I am emerging from the hurricane of business I mentioned to
   you, I find myself under a promise a year old to go and lecture for a
   week in Holland; and I write this almost stepping on to the boat. I
   don't in the least want to go; but I suppose the great question is
   there as elsewhere. Indeed, I hear it is something of a reconquered
   territory; some say a third of this heroic Calvinist state is now
   Catholic. I have no time to write properly; but the truth is that
   even before so small a journey I have a queer and perhaps
   superstitious feeling that I should like to repeat to you my
   intention of following the example of the worthy Calvinists, please
   God; so that you could even cite it if there were ever need in a good
   cause. I will write to you again and more fully about the business of
   instruction when I return, which should be in about ten days.

   Yours always sincerely,



   I ought to have written long ago to tell you what I have done about
   the most practical of business matters. I have again been torn in
   pieces by the wars of the _New Witness_; but I have managed to have
   another talk with my wife, after which I have written to our old
   friend Father O'Connor and asked him to come here, as he probably
   can, from what I hear. I doubt whether I can possibly put in words
   why I feel sure this is the right thing, not so much for my sake as
   for hers. We talk about misunderstandings; but I think it is possible
   to understand too well for comfort; certainly too well for my powers
   of psychological description. Frances is just at the point where Rome
   acts both as the positive and the negative magnet; a touch would turn
   her either way; almost (against her will) to hatred, but with the
   right touch to a faith far beyond my reach. I know Father O'Connor's
   would be the touch that does not startle, because she knows him and
   is fond of him; and the only thing she asked of me was to send for
   him. If he cannot come, of course I shall take other action and let
   you know. I doubt if most people could make head or tail of this
   hasty scrawl: but I think you will understand.

   Yours sincerely,


Father Knox wrote on July 17, 1922, "I'm awfully glad to hear that
you've sent for Father O'Connor and that you think he's likely to be
available. I must say that, in the story, Father Brown's powers of
neglecting his parish always seemed to me even more admirable than
Dr. Watson's powers of neglecting his practice; so I hope this trait
was drawn from the life."

Father O'Connor has described the two days before the reception: "On
Thursday morning, on one of our trips to the village, I told Mrs.
Chesterton: 'There is only one thing troubling Gilbert about the
great step--the effect it is going to have on you.' 'Oh! I shall be
infinitely relieved. You cannot imagine how it fidgets Gilbert to
have anything on his mind. The last three months have been
exceptionally trying. I should be only too glad to come with him, if
God in His mercy would show the way clear, but up to now He has not
made it clear enough to me to justify such a step.' So I was able to
reassure Gilbert that afternoon. We discussed at large such special
points as he wished, and then I told him to read through the Penny
Catechism to make sure there were no snags to a prosperous passage.
It was a sight for men and angels all the Friday to see him wandering
in and out of the house with his fingers in the leaves of the little
book, resting it on his forearm whilst he pondered with his head on
one side."

The ceremony took place in a kind of shed with corrugated iron roof
and wooden walls--a part of the Railway Hotel, for at this time
Beaconsfield had no Catholic Church. Father Ignatius Rice, O.S.B.,
another old and dear friend, came over from the Abbey at Douai, to
join Father O'Connor at breakfast at the Inn and they afterwards
walked up together to Top Meadow. What follows is from notes made by
my husband of a conversation with Father Rice. They found Gilbert in
an armchair reading the catechism "pulling faces and making noises as
he used to do when reading."

   He got up and stuffed the catechism in his pocket. At lunch he
   drank water and poured wine for everyone else. About three they set
   out for the Church. Suddenly Father O'Connor asked G.K. if he had
   brought the Ritual. G.K. plunged his hand in his pocket, pulled out a
   threepenny shocker with complete absence of embarrassment, and went
   on searching till at last he found the prayer book.

   While G.K. was making his confession to Father O'Connor, Frances
   and Father Rice went out of the chapel and sat on the yokels' bench
   in the bar of the inn. She was weeping.

   After the baptism the two priests came out and left Gilbert and
   Frances inside. Father Rice went back for something he had forgotten
   and he saw them coming down the aisle. She was still weeping, and
   Gilbert had his arm round her comforting her. . . .

   He wrote the sonnet on his conversion that day. He was in brilliant
   form for the rest of the day, quoting poetry and jesting in the
   highest spirits. . . .

   He joined the Church "to restore his innocence." Sin was almost the
   greatest reality to him. He became a Catholic because of the Church's
   practical power of dealing with sin.

Immediately, he wrote to his mother and to Maurice Baring, who had
anxiously feared he had perhaps offended Gilbert, so long was it
since he had heard from him.


   I write this (with the worst pen in South Bucks) to tell you
   something before I write about it to anyone else; something about
   which we shall probably be in the position of the two bosom friends
   at Oxford, who "never differed except in opinion." You have always
   been so wise in not judging people by their opinions, but rather the
   opinions by the people. It is in one sense a long story by this time;
   but I have come to the same conclusion that Cecil did about needs of
   the modern world in religion and right dealing, and I am now a
   Catholic in the same sense as he, having long claimed the name in its
   Anglo-Catholic sense. I am not going to make a foolish fuss of
   reassuring you about things I am sure you never doubted; these things
   do not hurt any relations between people as fond of each other as we
   are; any more than they ever made any difference to the love between
   Cecil and ourselves. But there are two things I should like to tell
   you, in case you do not realise them through some other impression. I
   have thought about you, and all that I owe to you and my father, not
   only in the way of affection, but of the ideals of honour and freedom
   and charity and all other good things you always taught me: and I am
   not conscious of the smallest break or difference in those ideals;
   but only of a new and necessary way of fighting for them. I think, as
   Cecil did, that the fight for the family and the free citizen and
   everything decent must now be waged by [the] one fighting form of
   Christianity. The other is that I have thought this out for myself
   and not in a hurry of feeling. It is months since I saw my Catholic
   friends and years since I talked to them about it. I believe it is
   the truth. I must end now, you know with how much love; for the post
   is going.

   Always your loving son,



   My abominable delay deserves every penalty conceivable, hanging,
   burning and boiling in oil; but really not so inconceivable an idea
   as that I should be offended with you at any time (let alone after
   all you have done in this matter) however thoroughly you might be
   justified in being offended with me. Really and truly my delay,
   indefensible as it is, was due to a desire and hope of writing you a
   letter quite different from all those I have had to write to other
   people; a very long and intimate letter, trying to tell you all about
   this wonderful business, in which you have helped me so much more
   than anyone else. The only other person I meant to write to in the
   same style is Father Knox; and his has been delayed in the same
   topsy-turvy way. I am drowning in whirlpools of work and worry over
   the _New Witness_ which nearly went bankrupt for good this week. But
   worry does not worry so much as it did before . . . Unless it is
   adding insult to injury, I shall send the long letter after all. This
   I send off instantly on receipt of yours. Please forgive me; you see
   I humiliate myself by using your stamped envelope.

   Yours always,


This sense that the Church was needed to fight for the world was
very strong in Gilbert when he hailed it to his mother as the "one
fighting form of Christianity." In the _New Witness_ he answered near
this time a newspaper suggestion that the Church ought to "move with
the times."

   The Cities of the Plain might have remarked that the heavens above
   them did not altogether fit in with their own high civilisation and
   social habits. They would be right. Oddly enough, however, when
   symmetry was eventually restored, it was not the heavens that had
   been obliged to adapt themselves. . . .

   The Church cannot move with the times; simply because the times are
   not moving. The Church can only stick in the mud with the times, and
   rot and stink with the times. In the economic and social world, as
   such, there is no activity except that sort of automatic activity
   that is called decay; the withering of the high Powers of freedom and
   their decomposition into the aboriginal soil of slavery. In that way
   the world stands much at the same stage as it did at the beginning of
   the Dark Ages. And the Church has the same task as it had at the
   beginning of the Dark Ages; to save all the light and liberty that
   can be saved, to resist the downward drag of the world, and to wait
   for better days. So much a real Church would certainly do; but a real
   Church might be able to do more. It might make its Dark Ages
   something more than a seed-time; it might make them the very reverse
   of dark. It might present its more human ideal in such abrupt and
   attractive a contrast to the inhuman trend of the time, as to inspire
   men suddenly for one of the moral revolutions of history; so that men
   now living shall not taste of death until they have seen justice

   We do not want, as the newspapers say, a Church that will move with
   the world. We want a Church that will move the world. We want one
   that will move it away from many of the things towards which it is
   now moving; for instance, the Servile State. It is by that test that
   history will really judge, of any Church, whether it is the real
   Church or no.



THERE IS ONE part of this story that has not been told with the rest:
Our Lady's share in Gilbert's conversion. The Chesterton family had
been quite without the strange Protestant prejudice that in the minds
of many Englishmen sets the Mother of God against God the Son. Our
lady was respected though of course not invoked. In a boyhood poem
Gilbert took the blasphemous lines of Swinburne's "Hymn to
Proserpine" and wrote a kind of parody in reverse turning the poem
into a hymn to Mary. He would, too, recite Swinburne's own lines
"deliberately directing them away from Swinburne's intention and
supposing them addressed to the new Christian Queen of life, rather
than to the fallen Pagan queen of death."

   But I turn to her still; having seen she shall surely abide
      in the end
   Goddess and maiden and queen be near me now and befriend.

Nor was it only admiration for art that made him write--also in early


   Do you blame me that I sit hours before this picture?
   But if I walked all over the world in this time
   I should hardly see anything worth seeing that is not
   in this picture.

Father O'Connor sees in _The Catholic Church and Conversion_ a hint
that Mr. Belloc had been of those who tried to hustle Gilbert in his
younger days. But on this profound reality of Mary's help they could
meet many years before Gilbert had finished the slow rumination of
mind and the painful effort of will that had held him so long. Here
is an early letter Belloc wrote to his friend:

   Reform Club, Manchester.
   11 Dec. 1907.


   I am a man afraid of impulse in boats, horses and all action though
   driven to it. I have never written a letter such as I am writing now,
   though I have desired to write some six or seven since I became a
   grown man. In the matter we discussed at Oxford I have a word to say
   which is easier to say on paper than by word of mouth, or rather,
   more valuable. All intellectual process is doubtful, all
   inconclusive, save pure deduction, which is a game if one's first
   certitudes are hypothetical and immensely valuable if one's first
   certitude is fixed, yet remains wholly dependent on that.

   Now if we differed in all main points I would not write thus, but
   there are one or two on which we agree. One is "Vere passus,
   immolatus in cruce pro homine." Another is in a looking up to our
   Dear Lady, the blessed Mother of God.

   I recommend to you this, that you suggest to her a comprehension for
   yourself, of what indeed is the permanent home of the soul. If it is
   here you will see it, if it is there you will see it. She never fails
   us. She has never failed me in any demand.

   I have never written thus--as I say--and I beg you to see nothing
   in it but what I say. There is no connection the reason can
   seize--but so it is. If you say "I want this" as in your case to know
   one way or the other--she will give it you: as she will give health
   or necessary money or success in a pure love. She is our Blessed

   I have not used my judgment in this letter. I am inclined to
   destroy it, but I shall send it. Don't answer it.

   Yours ever


   At top of letter: "My point is If it is right She knows. If it is
   not right She knows."

Gilbert believed it, and he knew that as he came to the Church he was
coming to Our Lady.

   Now I can scarcely remember a time when the image of Our lady did
   not stand up in my mind quite definitely, at the mention or the
   thought of all these things. I was quite distant from these things,
   and then doubtful about these things; and then disputing with the
   world for them, and with myself against them; for that is the
   condition before conversion. But whether the figure was distant, or
   was dark and mysterious, or was a scandal to my contemporaries, or
   was a challenge to myself--I never doubted that this figure was the
   figure of the Faith; that she embodied, as a complete human being
   still only human, all that this Thing had to say to humanity. The
   instant I remembered the Catholic Church, I remembered her; when I
   tried to forget the Catholic Church, I tried to forget her! When I
   finally saw what was nobler than my fate, the freest and the hardest
   of all my acts of freedom, it was in front of a gilded and very gaudy
   little image of her in the port of Brindisi, that I promised the
   thing that I would do, if I returned to my own land.*

[* _The Well and the Shallows_, pp. 176-7.]

In his _Chaucer_, G.K. quoted with considerable amusement a learned
critic who said it was "possible" that the poet had "passed through a
period of intense devotion, more especially towards the Virgin Mary."
"It is," he comments. "It does occur from time to time. I do not
quite understand why Chaucer must have 'passed through' this fit of
devotion; as if he had Mariolatry like the measles. Even an amateur
who has encountered this malady may be allowed to testify that it
does not usually visit its victim for a brief 'period'; it is
generally chronic and (in some sad cases I have known) quite

[* _Chaucer_, p. 121.]

_The Queen of Seven Swords_ is the great expression of Gilbert's
"chronic" love of Our Lady:

   And men looked up at the woman made for the morning
   When the stars were young,
   For whom more rude than a beggar's rhyme in the gutter
   These songs were sung.

"The Return of Eve" exemplified a favourite thought of his: when the
journalist keeps repeating that the life of religion does not lie in
dusty dogmas we should stop him with a great shout, for he is wrong
at the very start. It is from the seed of dogma and from that seed
alone that all the Powers of art and poetry and devotion spring. In
the days of his boyhood, when he thought of Our lady with a vague
and confused respect as _"The_ Madonna" he could not have written
"The Return of Eve." That flower came from the seed of the doctrine of
the Immaculate Conception.

Our lady is the Mother of God and our Mother: this doctrine blossomed
as he wrote:

   I found One hidden in every home
   A voice that sings about the house.
   A nurse that scares the nightmares off
   A mother nearer than a spouse

   Whose picture once I saw; and there
   Wild as of old and weird and sweet
   In sevenfold splendour blazed the moon
   Not on her brow; beneath her feet.

This poem, "The White Witch" has in it a mingling of the old
classical stories of his boyhood and the new light of Christian
reality. In _The Everlasting Man_ he saw the myths as hunger and the
Faith as bread. Men's hearts today were withered because they had
forgotten to eat their bread. The hunger of the pagans was a
healthier thing than the jaded sterility of the modern world. Our
Lady was ready to give that world the Bread of Life once more. And as
he meditated on the mystery of the Virgin Birth he saw God making
purity creative. She alone who overcame all heresies could overcome
the hideous heresy of birth prevention.

   That Christ from this creative purity
   Came forth your sterile appetites to scorn.
   So: in her house Life without Lust was born,
   So in your house Lust without Life shall die.

"Gaude, Virgo Maria, cunctas haereses sola interemisti." Was this
phrase from Our Lady's office ringing in Gilbert's mind as he sang of
the Seven Champions of Christendom disarmed and worsted in the fight,
going back to Our Lady to find that she had hidden their swords where
the gospels tell us she hid and pondered all things--in her heart?
From her wounded heart, Mary takes the seven swords to rearm the
saints who have to reconquer the earth.

Certainly he must often have thought of the Litany. So many verses
are based on it. Our Lord as a baby climbs the Ivory Tower of His
Mother's body and kisses the Mystic Rose of her lips:

   A woman was His walking home
   Foederis Arca Ora pro nobis.

And he thinks of the sun, moon and stars as trinkets for her to play

   With the great heart a woman has
   And the love of little things.

For she is a woman: Regina Angelorum, Queen of Powers and Archangels,
she yet belongs to the human race.

   Our lady went into a strange country,
   Our lady, for she was ours
   And had run on the little hills behind the houses
   And pulled small flowers;
   But she rose up and went into a strange country
   With strange thrones and powers.

From a welter of comment and correspondence that followed his
conversion--challenging, scorning, rejoicing, welcoming, I select two
letters from the two closest of Gilbert's Catholic friends--Hilaire
Belloc and Maurice Baring.



   I write to you, from these strange surroundings, the first line
   upon the news you gave me. I must write to you again when I have
   collected myself: for my reactions are abominably slow. I have,
   however, something to say immediately: and that is why I write this
   very evening, just after seeing Eleanor off at the Station. The thing
   I have to say is this (I could not have said it before your step: I
   can say so now. Before it would have been like a selected pleading.)
   The Catholic Church is the exponent of Reality. It is true. Its
   doctrines in matters large and small are statements of what is. This
   it is which the ultimate act of the intelligence accepts. This it is
   which the will deliberately confirms. And that is why Faith though an
   act of the Will is Moral. If the Ordnance Map tells us that it is 11
   miles to [a place] then, my mood of lassitude as I walk through the
   rain at night making it feel like 30, I use the Will and say "No." My
   intelligence has been convinced and I compel myself to use it against
   my mood. It is 11 and though I feel in the depths of my being to have
   gone 30 miles and more, I _know_ it is not yet 11 I have gone.

   I am by all my nature of mind sceptical. . . . And as to the doubt
   of the soul I discover it to be false: a mood: not a conclusion. My
   conclusion--and that of all men who have ever once seen it--is the
   Faith; Corporate, organised, a personality, teaching. A thing, not a
   theory. It.

   To you, who have the blessing of profound religious emotion, this
   statement may seem too desiccate. It is indeed not enthusiastic. It
   lacks meat.

   It is my misfortune. In youth I had it: even till lately. Grief has
   drawn the juices from it. I am alone and unfed, the more do I affirm
   the Sanctity, the Unity, the Infallibility of the Catholic Church. By
   my very isolation do I the more affirm it, as a man in a desert knows
   that water is right for man: or as a wounded dog not able to walk,
   yet knows the way home.

   The Catholic Church is the natural home of the human spirit. The
   odd perspective picture of life which looks like a meaningless puzzle
   at first, seen from that one standpoint takes a complete order and
   meaning, like the skull in the picture of the Ambassadors.

   So much for my jejune contribution: not without value; because I
   know you regard my intelligence--a perilous tool God gave me for his
   own purposes; one bringing nothing to me.

   But beyond this there will come in time, if I save my soul, the
   flesh of these bones--which bones alone I can describe and teach. I
   know--without feeling (an odd thing in such a connection) the reality
   of Beatitude: which is the goal of Catholic Living.

   In hac urbe lux solennis
   Ver aeternum pax perennis
   Et aeterna gaudia.


   H. B.

Maurice Baring wrote:

   August 25: 1922.


   When I wrote to you the other day I was still cramped by the
   possibility of the news not being true although I _knew_ it was true.
   I felt it was true at once. Curiously enough I felt it had happened
   before I saw the news in the newspaper at all. I felt that your ship
   had arrived at its port. But the more I felt this, the more unwilling
   I was to say anything before I heard the news from a source other
   than the newspapers. I gave way to an excess, a foolish excess
   perhaps of scruple. But you will, I think, understand this. In
   writing to you the other day I expressed not a tenth part of what I
   felt and feel and that baldly and inadequately. Nothing for years has
   given me so much joy. I have hardly ever entered a church without
   putting up a candle to Our Lady or to St. Joseph or St. Anthony for
   you. And both this year and last year in Lent I made a Novena for
   you. I know of many other people, better people far than I, who did
   the same. Many Masses were said for you and prayers all over England
   and Scotland in centres of Holiness. I will show you some day a
   letter from some Nuns on the subject. A great friend of mine one of
   the greatest saints I have known, Sister Mary Annunciation of the
   Convent Orphanage, Upper Norwood, used always to pray for you. She,
   alas, died last year.

   Did I ever quote you a sentence of Bernard Holland on the subject
   of Kenelm Henry Digby when the latter was received?

   "Father Scott . . . who, at last, guided him through the narrow
   door where one must bend one's head, into the internal space and
   freedom of the eternal and universal Catholic Church." _Space_ and
   _freedom:_ that was what I experienced on being received; that is
   what I have been most conscious of ever since. It is the exact
   opposite of what the ordinary Protestant conceives to be the case. To
   him and not only to him but to the ordinary English agnostic the
   convert to Catholicism is abandoning his will and his independence,
   sometimes they think even his nationality; at the best they think he
   is sheltering himself in a walled garden; at the worst they think he
   has closed on himself an iron door: and shackled himself with foolish
   chains and sold his birthright for a crown of tinsel.

   And yet their own experience, the testimony of their eyes if they
   would only use them, ought to suggest to them that they might perhaps
   be mistaken.

   It would be difficult for anyone to make out a case for the
   UnEnglishness of Manning or indeed of any prominent English Catholic
   whether a born Catholic or a convert.

   It would be difficult for them to prove that Belloc was a writer
   wanting in independence. It would be difficult for them to convince
   any one that Father Vaughan and Lord Fitzalan were wearing foolscaps.

   And anybody who has thought about history or looked on at politics
   must have reflected that freedom resides where there is order and not
   where there is license: or no-order.

   It is true in politics; it is true in art. It is the basis of our
   whole social life in England. Russia has just given us the most
   startling of object lessons. The English with their passion for
   Committees, their Club-rules and their well organised traffic are
   daily realising the fact, however little they may recognise the
   theory. Only the law can give us freedom, said Goethe talking of art.
   "Und das Gesetz kann nur die Freiheit geben."

   Well all I have to say, Gilbert, is what I think I have already
   said to you, and what I have said not long ago in a printed book.
   That I was received into the Church on the Eve of Candlemass 1909,
   and it is perhaps the only act in my life, which I am quite certain I
   have never regretted. Every day I live, the Church seems to me more
   and more wonderful; the Sacraments more and more solemn and
   sustaining; the voice of the Church, her liturgy, her rules, her
   discipline, her ritual, her decisions in matters of Faith and Morals
   more and more excellent and profoundly wise and true and right, and
   her children stamped with something that those outside Her are
   without. There I have found Truth and reality and everything outside
   Her is to me compared with Her as dust and shadow. Once more God
   bless you and Frances. Please give her my love. In my prayers for you
   I have always added her name.



It was a bit of great good fortune, although at the time he did not
feel it so, that the death of the _New Witness_ in 1922 for lack of
funds, left Gilbert some months for uninterrupted creative thought
before _G.K.'s Weekly_ took its place. Lawrence Solomon, friend of
his boyhood and at this time a near neighbour, has told me not only
how happy his conversion had made Gilbert but also how it had seemed
to bring him increased strength of character. Worry, he had told
Maurice Baring, did not worry so much as of old because of a
fundamental peace. In this atmosphere were written two of his most
important books: _St. Francis of Assisi_ published 1923, _The
Everlasting Man_ published 1925.

In a poem he has expressed his sense of conversion as a new light
that had transfigured life: indeed of a new life given to him:

   After one moment when I bowed my head
   And the whole world turned over and came upright,
   And I came out where the old road shone white,
   I walked the ways and heard what all men said.

      *      *      *      *      *

   They rattle reason out through many a sieve
   That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
   And all these things are less than dust to me
   Because my name is Lazarus and I live.*

[* _Collected Poems_, p. 387, "The Convert."]

Both books shine with that light on the white road of man's
endeavour, thrill with that life. Gilbert felt now the clue to
history in his fingers and he used it increasingly. _The Everlasting
Man_ is the _Orthodoxy_ of his later life and one difficulty in
dealing with it adequately was expressed in a letter from William
Lyon Phelps thanking the author for "a magnificent work of genius and
never more needed than now. I took out my pencil to mark the most
important passages, but I quickly put my pencil in my pocket for I
found I had to mark every sentence." Reading the book for perhaps the
seventh time I can only say (I hope without irreverence) what G.K.
himself says happens to those who can read the words of the Gospels
"simply enough." They "will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon
them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words
about such words as these."

"Rocks rolled upon them." Did he not feel crushed, overwhelmed at
times by his own thought on these immensities, or can the philosopher
carry his thoughts as lightly as Gilbert so often seemed to carry
his? I think not always. He must have needed superhuman strength to
conceive and give birth to this mighty book. The thoughts sketched in
_The New Jerusalem_ had grown to their full fruition in an atmosphere
of meditation. It would be much easier to give an outline of _The
Everlasting Man_ than of _Orthodoxy_, much harder to give an idea of
it. For _Orthodoxy_ consists of a hundred brilliant arguments while
_The Everlasting Man_ really is a vision of history supported by a
historical outline. Comparing his own effort with that of H. G.
Wells, Chesterton says, "I do not believe that the best way to
produce an outline of history is to rub out the lines." He is like
Wells however in not being a specialist but claiming "the right of
the amateur to do his best with the facts the specialists
provide"--only their specialists are different specialists and their
facts therefore largely different facts.

Chesterton, unlike most converts, wrote concerning his own conversion
the least interesting of his later books: but in _The Everlasting Man_
he is not at all concerned with his own spiritual wayfaring, he
merely wants to make everyone else look at what he has come to see at
the end of the way. The book is an attempt to get outside Man and
thus see him as the strange being he really is: to get outside
Christianity and see for the first time its uniqueness among the
religions of the world. Why are not all men aware of the uniqueness
of Man among the animals and the uniqueness of the Church among
religions? Because they do not really look at either. Familiarity has
dulled the edge of awareness. Men must be made to see them as though
for the first time; and it is the towering achievement of this book
that reading it we do so see them. "I desire to help the reader to
see Christendom from the outside in the sense of seeing it as a whole
against the background of other historic things; just as I desire him
to see humanity as a whole against the background of natural things.
And I say that in both cases when seen thus, they stand out from
their background like supernatural things." This being his desire, he
divides the book into two parts--"the first being the main adventure
of the human race in so far as it remained heathen; and the second a
summary of the real difference that was made by it becoming

Notable as the first part is, it is only a preparation for the
second, which shows the Church not as one religion among many but as
the only religion, for it is the only Thing that binds into one both
Philosophy (or Thought) and Mythology (or Poetry), giving us a Logos
Who is also the Hero of the strangest story in the world. He asks the
man who talks of reading the Gospels really to read them as he might
read his daily paper and to feel the terrific shock of the words of
Christ to the Pharisees or the behaviour of Christ to the
money-changers: to look at the uniqueness of the Church that has died
so often but like Her Founder risen again from the dead.

Two untrue things, he felt, were constantly reiterated about the
gospel--one that the Church had overlaid and made difficult a plain
and simple story: the other that the hero of this story was merely
human and taught a morality suitable to his own age, inapplicable in
our more complicated society. To anyone who really read the gospels
the instant impression would be rather that they were full of dark
riddles which only historic Christianity has clarified. The Eunuchs
of the heavenly Kingdom would be an idea dark and terrible but for
the historic beauty of Catholic virginity. The ideal of man and woman
"in one flesh" inseparable and sanctified by a sacrament became clear
in the lives of the great married saints of Christendom. The apparent
idealisation of idleness above service in the story of Mary and
Martha was lit up by the sight of Catherine and Clare and Teresa
shining above the little home at Bethany. The meek inheriting the
earth became the basis of a new Social Order when the mystical monks
reclaimed the lands that the practical kings had lost.

Thus if the gospel was a riddle the Church was the answer to the
riddle because both were created by One Who Knew: Who saw the ages in
which His own creation was to find completion: Whose morality was not
one of another age but of another world.

Chesterton gathered history in his mind and saw together before the
Christmas Crib the shepherds who had found their shepherd, the
philosopher kings who "would stand for the same human ideal if their
names had really been Confucius or Pythagoras or Plato. They were
those who sought not tales but the truth of things; and since their
thirst for truth was itself a thirst for God, they also have had
their reward. But even in order to understand that reward, we must
understand that for philosophy as much as mythology, that reward was
the completion of the incomplete."*

[* _The Everlasting Man_, p. 211.]

G.K. too had needed the completion of incomplete human thought: he
too had followed the star from a far country. It had been a fancy of
his boyhood, caught from a fairytale, that evil lurked somewhere in a
hidden room of the human house and the human heart. He saw in the
history of the ancients a consciousness of the Fall, in the sadness
of their songs a sense of "the Presence of the Absence of God." But
at Bethlehem he saw the transformation that had come upon the whole
race of man with that little local infancy concealing the mighty
power of God who had put Himself under the feet of the world.

   It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart
   of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from
   within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart
   that betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would
   call strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose
   strength is in that winged levity with which they brush us and pass.
   It is all that is in us but a brief tenderness, that is there made
   eternal; all that means no more than a momentary softening that is in
   some strange fashion become a strengthening and a repose; it is the
   broken speech and the lost word that are made positive and suspended
   unbroken; as the strange kings fade into a far country and the
   mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only
   the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more
   human than humanity.

[* Ibid., p. 223.]

It seems to me profoundly significant that Gilbert studied first in
the little Poor Man of Assisi what Christ could do in one man before
he came on to the study of what He had done in mankind as a whole, of
Who He was who had done it. For the man thus chosen embodied the
ideals that Gilbert had seen dimly in his boyhood--ideals that most
of us accept a little reluctantly from the Church, but which had
actually attracted him towards the Church. St. Francis "had found the
secret of life in being the servant and the secondary figure". . .
"he seems to have liked everybody, but especially those whom
everybody disliked him for liking." "By nature he was the sort of man
who has that vanity which is the opposite of pride, that vanity which
is very near to humility. He never despised his fellow creatures and
therefore he never despised the opinion of his fellow creatures,
including the admiration of his fellow creatures." "He was above all
things a great giver; and he cared chiefly for the best kind of
giving which is called thanksgiving. If another great man wrote a
grammar of assent, he may well be said to have written a grammar of
acceptance; a grammar of gratitude. He understood down to its very
depths the theory of thanks; and its depths are a bottomless abyss."

Here, in St. Francis, Gilbert saw the apotheosis of his old boyish
thought--that thanksgiving is a duty and a joy, that we should love
not "humanity" but each human. Things shadowed in the Notebook are in
_St. Francis_, for

   the transition from the good man to the saint is a sort of
   revolution; by which one for whom all things illustrate and
   illuminate God becomes one for whom God illustrates and illuminates
   all things. It is rather like the reversal whereby a lover might say
   at first sight that a lady looked like a flower, and say afterwards
   that all flowers reminded him of his lady. A saint and a poet
   standing by the same flower might seem to say the same thing; but
   indeed though they would both be telling the truth, they would be
   telling different truths. For one the joy of life is a cause of
   faith, for the other rather a result of faith.*

[* _St. Francis of Assisi_, p. 111.]

_The Everlasting Man_ and the _St. Francis_ seem to me the highest
expression of Gilbert's mysticism. I have hesitated to use the word
for it is not one to be used lightly but I can find no other. Like
most Catholics I have been wont to believe that to be a mystic a man
must first be an ascetic and Gilbert was not an ascetic in the
ordinary sense. But is there not for the thinker an asceticism of the
mind, very searching, very purifying? In his youth he had told
Bentley that creative writing was the hardest of hard labour. That
sense of the pressure of thought that made Newman call creative
writing "getting rid of pain by pain"; the profound depression that
often follows; the exhaustion that seems like a bottomless pit. St.
Theresa said the hardest penance was easier than mental prayer: was
not much of Gilbert's thought a contemplation?

Faith, thanksgiving, love, surely these far above bodily asceticism
can so clear a man's eyesight that he may fittingly be called a
mystic since he sees God everywhere. "The less a man thinks of
himself, the more he thinks of his good luck and of all the gifts of
God." Only a poet who was more than a poet could see so clearly of
what like St. Francis was.

   When we say that a poet praises the whole creation, we commonly
   mean only that he praises the whole cosmos. But this sort of poet
   does really praise creation, in the sense of the act of creation. He
   praises the passage or transition from nonentity to entity; there
   falls here also the shadow of that archetypal image of the bridge,
   which has given to the priest his archaic and mysterious name. The
   mystic who passes through the moment when there is nothing but God
   does in some sense behold the beginningless beginnings in which there
   was really nothing else. He not only appreciates everything but the
   nothing of which everything was made. In a fashion he endures and
   answers even the earthquake irony of the Book of Job; in some sense
   he is there when the foundations of the world are laid, with the
   mornings stars singing together and the sons of God shouting for joy.*

[* _St. Francis of Assisi_, pp. 112-13.]

But there was in all those years another element besides the giving
of thanks and the joy of creation: an abiding grief for the sorrows
of the sons of men and especially those of his own land. In this mood
the _Cobbett_ was written.

Nine years separate the publication of _William Cobbett_ from that of
the _History of England_. Written at the time when Englishmen were
fighting so magnificently, that book had radiated G.K.'s own mood of
hope, but to read _Rural Rides_, to meditate on Cobbett's England,
and then turn to the England of the hour was not cheerful. For
Cobbett "did not draw precise diagrams of things as they were. He
only had frantic and fantastic nightmares of things as they are."*
And these nightmares haunted Cobbett's biographer.

[* _Cobbett_, p. 22.]

   What he saw was not an Eden that cannot exist, but rather an
   Inferno that can exist, and even that does exist. What he saw was the
   perishing of the whole English power of self-support, the growth of
   cities that drain and dry up the countryside, the growth of dense
   dependent populations incapable of finding their own food, the
   toppling triumph of machines over men, the sprawling omnipotence of
   financiers over patriots, the herding of humanity in nomadic masses
   whose very homes are homeless, the terrible necessity of peace and
   the terrible probability of war, all the loading up of our little
   island like a sinking ship; the wealth that may mean famine and the
   culture that may mean despair; the bread of Midas and the sword of
   Damocles. In a word, he saw what we see, but he saw it when it was
   not there. And some cannot see it--even when it is there.*

[* Ibid., pp. 14, 15.]

Two men had written of the Reformation as the ultimate origin of
these evils at a time when it was still the fashion to treat it as
the dawn of all good. Lingard, himself a Catholic, had written
cautiously, with careful documentation and moderate tone. Cobbett, a
Protestant, had written hastily and furiously, but both men had drawn
in essentials the same picture. Chesterton suspected that Cobbett was
treated with contempt, Lingard with respect, largely because of the
difference in the tone of the two men. Lingard spoke restrainedly but
Cobbett's voice was raised in a loud cry:

   He was simply a man who had discovered a crime: ancient like many
   crimes; concealed like all crimes. He was as one who had found in a
   dark wood the bones of his mother, and suddenly knew she had been
   murdered. He knew now that England had been secretly slain. Some, he
   would say, might think it a matter of mild regret to be expressed in
   murmurs. But when he found a corpse he gave a shout; and if fools
   laughed at anyone shouting, he would shout the more, till the world
   should be shaken with that terrible cry in the night.

   It is that ringing and arresting cry of "Murder!" wrung from him as
   he stumbled over those bones of the dead England, that distinguishes
   him from all his contemporaries.*

[* Ibid., pp. 176-77.]

Yet, for the Christian, hope remains: no murder can be the end.
"Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God
who knew the way out of the grave." This quotation is from the
chapter called "Five Deaths of the Faith" in _The Everlasting Man_.
Several times in the book Chesterton puts aside tempting lines of
thought with the remark that he intends to develop them later--in one
of the unwritten books that he always felt were so much better than
those he actually wrote. Would any human life have been long enough
to develop them all? Anyhow, even the whole of this life was not

As I turn to the story of the weekly paper rising again from its
ashes I ask myself the question I have often asked: was it worth
while? I cannot answer the question. Something of his manhood seemed
to Gilbert bound up with this struggle, and it may be he would have
been a lesser man had he abandoned it. And yet at moments imagining
the poetry, the philosophy that might have been ours--another _White
Horse_, another _Everlasting Man_--I am tempted to wish that these
years had not thus been sacrificed to the paper which enshrined his
brother's memory.


The Reluctant Editor (1925-1930)

_I tell you naught for your comfort
Yea naught for your desire
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

Ballad of the White Horse_

COULD GILBERT HAVE divided his life between literary work, his home
at Top Meadow, and those other elements called in the _Autobiography_
"Friendship and Foolery," that life might well have been as he
himself called it "indefensibly fortunate and happy." But he could
not. Part of his philosophy of joy was that thanks must be given--for
sunsets, for dandelions, for beech trees, for home and friends. And
this thanks could only be the taking of his part in the fight. He
would never, he once said, have turned of his own accord to politics:
it is arguable that it would have been better if he never had. But
his brother had plunged into the fray with that very political paper
the _New Witness_ and his brother's death had left it in Gilbert's
hands. He felt the task to be a sacred legacy, and when the paper
died for lack of funds his one thought was how to start it again.

For many months he kept the office in being and paid salaries to a
skeleton staff, consisting of Mr. Gander, the deaf old manager, Miss
Dunham (now Mrs. Phillips) and an office boy. Mr. Titterton would
stroll in and play cricket with the office boy with a paper ball and
a walking-stick. Endless discussions were held as to how to re-start
the paper and whether under the old name or a new one. Bernard Shaw
had his own view. He wrote:

   11 Feb.: 1923


   Not presume to dictate (I have all Jingle's delicacy); but if
   everybody else is advising you, why should not I?

   _T.P.'s Weekly_ always had a weakly sound. But it established
   itself sufficiently to make that form of title the trade mark of a
   certain sort of paper. Hence _Jack O'London's Weekly_. It also set
   the trade sheep running that way.

   You have the precedents of Defoe and Cobbett for using your own
   name; but _D.D.'s Weekly_ is unthinkable, and W.C.'s Weekly indecent.
   Your initials are not euphonious: they recall that brainy song of my
   boyhood, U-pi-dee.

   Jee Kay see, kay see, kay see,
   Jee Kay see, Jee Kay see.
   Jee Kay see, Kay see, Kay see,
   Jee Kay see Kay see.

   Chesterton is a noble name; but Chesterton is Weakly spoils it.
   Call it simply


   That is how it will be asked for at the bookstalls. You may be
   obliged to call later ventures _Chesterton's Daily_ or _Chesterton's
   Annual_, but this one needs no impertinently superfluous definition:
   _Chesterton's Perennial_ is amusing enough to be excusable; but a
   joke repeated every week is no joke. A picture cover like that of
   Punch might stand even that test if it were good enough; but where
   are you to find your Doyle?

   Week is a detestable snivelling word: nothing can redeem it, not
   even the sermon on the Mount. Seven Days is better, But reminds one
   of the police court as well as of the creation. Every Seven Days
   would sound well. But _Chesterton's_ leaves no room for anything
   else. I am more than usually sure that I am right.

   Frances quite agrees with me. How would you like it if she were to
   publish a magazine and call it Fanny's First Paper?



If Gilbert answered this letter his answer has disappeared. He seems
to have asked permission to publish it--probably with a view to
collecting further opinions.

   10 Adelphi Terrace, London, W.C.2.
   February 16th 1923.


   Of course you may publish any letter of mine that you care to, at
   your discretion.

   . . . But not only will the publication of a letter from me not add
   one to your circulation (nothing but a permanent feature will do
   that), but it may lead you to disregard the advice I give to all the
   people who start Labour papers (about two a week or so), which always
   is, "Don't open with an article to say that your paper supplies a
   want; don't blight your columns with 'messages'; don't bewilder your
   readers with the family jokes of your clique; else there will be no
   second number." Ponder this: it is sound.

   Your main difficulty is that the class whose champion you have made
   yourself reads either Lloyd's or nothing. To the rural proprietor,
   no longer a peasant, art, including _belles lettres_, is immorality,
   and people who idealize peasants, unpractical fools. Also the Roman
   Catholic Church, embarrassed by recruits of your type and born
   scoffers like Belloc, who cling to the Church because its desecration
   would take all the salt out of blasphemy, will quietly put you on the
   unofficial index. The Irish will not support an English journal
   because it occasionally waves a Green flag far better than they can
   wave it themselves. And the number of Jews who will buy you just to
   see what you say about them is not large enough to keep you going.
   Thus there is absolutely no public for your policy; and though there
   is a select one for yourself one and indivisible, it is largely
   composed of people to whom your oddly assorted antipathies and
   pseudo-racial feuds are uncongenial. Besides, on these fancies of
   yours you have by this time said all you have to say so many thousand
   times over, that your most faithful admirers finally (and always
   suddenly) discover they are fed up with the _New Witness_ and cannot
   go on with it. This last danger becomes greater as you become older,
   because when we are young we can tell ourselves a new story every
   night between our prayers and our sleep; but later on we find
   ourselves repeating the same story with intensifications and
   improvements night after night until we are tired of it; and in the
   end (which you have not yet reached) a story revived from the old
   repertory has to last for months, and is more and more shaky as a
   protection against thinking of business, or lying there a prey to
   unwelcome reminiscences. And what happens to the story of the
   imaginative child happens also to the sermon or the feuilleton of the
   adult. It is inevitably happening to you.

   That is the case against the success of CHESTERTON'S.

   Your only chance finally is either to broaden your basis, or to
   have no basis at all, like Dickens in "Household Words" and "All The
   Year Round," and say, "Give me something with imagination in it, and
   I can do without politics or theoretic sociology of any kind." This
   is perhaps the only true catholicism in literature; but it will
   hardly serve your turn; because all the articles and stories that
   Dickens got are now mopped up by the popular press, which in his day
   stuck to politics and news and nothing else. So I am afraid you will
   have to stand for a policy, or at least a recognisable attitude,
   unless you are prepared to write a detective story every week and
   make Belloc write a satirical story as well.

   You could broaden your basis if you had money enough to try the
   experiment of giving ten poor but honest men in Beaconsfield and ten
   more in London capital enough to start for themselves as independent
   farmers and shopkeepers. The result would be to ruin 18 out of the
   twenty, and possibly to ruin the lot. You would then learn from your
   feelings what you would never learn from me, that what men need is
   not property but honorable service. Confronted either with 20 men
   ruined by your act, or 18 ruined and one Fascination Fledgby owning
   half a street in London, and the other half a parish in Bucks, you
   would--well, perhaps join the Fabian Society.

   The pseudo race feuds you should drop, simply because you cannot
   compete with the _Morning Post_, which gives the real thing in its
   succulent savagery whilst you can give only a "wouldn't hurt a fly"
   affectation of it. In religion too you are up against the fact that
   an editor, like an emperor, must not belong to a sect. Wells is on
   the right tack: my tack. See my prefaces to Androcles and Methuselah.
   We want the real Catholic Church above the manufactured one. The
   manufactured one is useful as the Salvation Army is useful, or the
   formulas of the Church of Christ Scientist; but they do not strike on
   the knowledge box of the modern intellectual; and it is on the modern
   intellectual that you are depending. I am an Irishman, and know how
   far the official Catholic Church can go. Your ideal Church does not
   exist and never can exist within the official organization, in which
   Father Dempsey will always be efficient and Father Keegan futile if
   not actually silenced; and I know that an officially Catholic
   Chesterton is an impossibility.

   However, you must find out all this for yourself as I found it out
   for myself. Mere controversy is waste of time; and faith is a curious
   thing. I believe that you would not have become a professed official
   Catholic if you did not believe that you believe in
   transubstantiation; but I find it quite impossible to believe that
   you believe in transubstantiation any more than, say, Dr. Saleeby
   does. You will have to go to Confession next Easter; and I find the
   spectacle--the box, your portly kneeling figure, the poor devil
   inside wishing you had become a Fireworshipper instead of coming
   there to shake his soul with a sense of his ridiculousness and
   yours--all incredible, monstrous, comic, though of course I can put a
   perfect literary complexion on it in a brace of shakes.

   Now, however, I am becoming personal (how else can I be sincere?).
   Besides I am going on too long and the lunch bell is ringing. So
   forgive me, and don't bother to answer unless you cannot help it.



Meanwhile, Shaw as usual responded cordially to Gilbert's wish to
make him an early attraction in the paper--but also as usual urged
him towards the theatre:

   10th Dec. 1924.

   By all means send me a screed about Joan [of Arc] for the cockpit.
   But I protest I have no views about her. I am only the first man
   modest enough to know his place _auprès d'elle_ as a simple reporter
   and old stage hand.

   You should write plays instead of editing papers. Why not do George
   Fox, who was released from the prisons in which Protestant England
   was doing its best to murder him, by the Catholic Charles II? George
   and Joan were as like as two peas in pluck and obstinacy.


The specimen advance number was published before the end of 1924. In
the leading article G.K. gave his reasons for agreeing finally to use
his own name--although in the form attacked by Shaw. He had first
viewed the proposal with a "horror which has since softened into
loathing." He had looked for a title that should indicate the paper's
policy. But while that policy was in fact a support of human
normality: well-distributed property, freedom and the family--yet the
surrounding atmosphere was so abnormal that "any title defining our
doctrine makes it look doctrinaire." A name like _The Distributive
Review_ would suggest that a Distributist was like a Socialist, a
crank or a pedant with a new theory of human nature. "It is so old
that it has become new. At the same time I want a title that does
suggest that the paper is controversial and that this is the general
trend of its controversy. I want something that will be recognised as
a flag, however fantastic and ridiculous, that will be in some sense
a challenge, even if the challenge be received only with genial
derision. I do not want a colourless name; and the nearest I can get
to something like a symbol is merely to fly my own colours."

Although the paper was never exclusively Catholic, that flag was for
G.K. as it had been for Cecil of a very definite pattern and very
clear colours: religiously the paper stood for Catholic Christianity,
socially for the theory of small ownership, personal responsibility
and property. It was in strong opposition especially to Socialism and
even more to Communism. Bernard Shaw, Gilbert once said, wanted to
distribute money among the poor--"we want to distribute power."

During the last part of Cecil's editorship his wife had been
Assistant Editor of the _New Witness_ and she had so continued when
Gilbert first became Editor. But she was neither a Catholic nor a
Distributist. Religion seems not to have interested her, and her
political outlook was entirely different from Gilbert's. In _The
Chestertons_ she dismissed Distributism as "quite without first
principles" and "a pious hope and no more."* Obviously it was
impossible for Gilbert to start his new paper with an Assistant
Editor in entire disagreement with his views. I have sometimes
wondered whether his intense dislike of having to tell Mrs. Cecil
this was not almost as strong a factor in the delay as the money

[* I have learnt, as this book goes to press, that Mrs. Cecil became
a Catholic in 1941.]

There was no break in their relations: she went on writing for the
paper, doing chiefly the dramatic criticism. But it is clear from her
own account of the incident that she wholly misconstrued Gilbert's
attitude and did not realise how far she herself had drifted from
Cecil's views as well as from Gilbert's.

Shaw wrote again:

   Reid's Palace Hotel
   Funchal, Madeira.
   16th January, 1925.


   The sample number has followed me out here. What a collector's

   Considering that I had Cecil's own assurance that my Quintessence
   of Ibsenism rescued him from Rationalism, and that it was written in
   1889 (I abandoned Rationalism consciously and explicitly in 1881) I
   consider John Prothero's introduction of me to your readers as a
   recently converted Materialist Rationalist to be a most unnatural
   act; and it would serve her right if I never spoke to her again.

   Rationalism is the bane of the Church. A Roman priest always wants
   to argue with you. A Church of England parson flies in terror from an
   argument, a fundamentally sensible course. George Fox simply knocked
   arguers out with his "I have experimental knowledge of God." St.
   Thomas Aquinas was like me: he knew the worthlessness of
   ratiocination because he could do it so well, and yet despaired of
   the Inspirationists in practical life because they did it so badly.

   J.K.P. doesn't know her way about in this controversy; and I cannot
   take up her challenge.

   What makes me uneasy about the prospectus is that you drag in
   anti-prohibition. You might as well have declared for Brighter London
   at once, or said that the paper would be printed at the office of the
   _Morning Advertiser_. You run the risk of the money coming from The
   Trade. However, _non olet_. Only, remember the fate of all the
   editors--Gardiner, Donald, Massingham, etc., etc.--who have written
   without regard to their proprietors. The strength of your position is
   that they can hardly carry on with your name in the title without
   you. But they can kill the paper by stopping supplies if it does not
   pay; and the chances are that it will not. I hav