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Title: Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Author: Braybrooke, Patrick, 1894-
Language: English
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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.

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By the Same Author


[Illustration: _G. K. CHESTERTON_





With an Introduction by Arthur F. Thorn

The Chelsea Publishing Company
16 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea

Printed at
The Curwen Press
Plaistow, E. 13


It is certain that up to a point in the evolution of Self most people
find life quite exciting and thrilling. But when middle age arrives,
often prematurely, they forget the thrill and excitements; they become
obsessed by certain other lesser things that are deficient in any kind
of Cosmic Vitality. The thrill goes out of life: a light dies down and
flickers fitfully; existence goes on at a low ebb--something has been
lost. From this numbed condition is born much of the blind anguish of

It is one of the tragedies of human existence that the divine sense of
wonder is eventually destroyed by inexcusable routine and more or less
mechanical living. Mental abandon, the exercise of fancy and
imagination, the function of creative thought--all these things are
squeezed out of the consciousness of man until his primitive enjoyment
of the mystical part of life is affected in a very serious way.

Nothing could be more useful, therefore, than to write a book about a
man who has done more than any other living writer to stimulate and
preserve the primitive sense of wonder and joy in human life. Gilbert
Keith Chesterton has never lost mental contact with the cosmic
simplicity of human existence. He knows, as well as anybody has ever
known, that the life of man goes wrong simply because we are too lazy to
be pleased with simple, fundamental things.

We grow up in our feverish, artificial civilization, believing that the
real, satisfying things are complex and difficult to obtain. Our lives
become unnaturally stressed and tormented by the pitiless and incessant
struggle for social conditions which are, at best, second-rate and
ultimately disappointing.

G. K. Chesterton would restore the primitive joys of wonder and
childlike delight in simple things. His ideal is the _real_, not the
merely impossible. Unlike most would-be saviours of the race, he seeks
not to merge a new humanity into a brand new glittering civilization. He
would have us awaken once more to the ancient mysteries and eternal
truths. He would have us turn back in order to progress.

Science makes us proud, but it does not make us happy. Efficiency makes
us slaves--we have forgotten the truth about freedom. Success is our
narcotic deity, and weans more men into despair than failure; for, as
G.K.C. has said, 'Nothing fails like Success.' We have yet to rediscover
the spiritual health that comes with a clear recognition of the part
that life cannot be great until it is lived madly and wildly. We have to
learn all over again that grass really is green, and the sky, at times,
very blue indeed.

                       ARTHUR F. THORN

                          (_Author of 'Richard Jefferies'_),
                             _Assistant-Director of Studies,
                               London School of Journalism._

_Author's Note_

This book is the outcome of many and repeated requests to the author to
write it. While realizing the difficulties involved, he feels that the
opportunities he has enjoyed give him at least some qualifications for
the task, for not only is he a kinsman of Mr. Chesterton, but also has
spent much time in his company.

The book aims to be a popular study of the Writer and the Man. It is
dedicated to lovers of the works of G.K.C. and to the wider public who
wish to know about one of the most brilliant minds of the day.

                                                      PATRICK BRAYBROOKE.

 _46 Russell Square, W.C. 1_


  CHAPTER                                     PAGE

    I THE ESSAYIST                               1

   II DICKENS                                   15

  III THACKERAY                                 29

   IV BROWNING                                  42

    V CHESTERTON AS HISTORIAN                   57

   VI THE POET                                  67

  VII THE PLAYWRIGHT                            76

 VIII THE NOVELIST                              79

   IX CHESTERTON ON DIVORCE                     90

    X 'THE NEW JERUSALEM'                       96

   XI MR. CHESTERTON AT HOME                    99

  XII HIS PLACE IN LITERATURE                  105

 XIII G.K.C. AND G.B.S.                        113

  XIV CONCLUSION                               119

_Chapter One_


It is extremely difficult in the somewhat limited space of a chapter to
give the full attention that should be given to such a brilliant and
original essayist (which is not always an _ipso facto_ of brilliant
essayists) as Chesterton. Essayists are of all men extremely elastic.
Occasionally they are dull and prosy, very often they are obscure, quite
often they are wearisome. The only criticism which applies adversely to
Chesterton as an essayist is that he is very often--and I rather fear he
likes being so--obscure. He is brilliant in an original manner, he is
original in a brilliant way; scarcely any thought of his is not
expressed in paradox. What is orthodox to him is heresy to other people;
what is heresy to him is orthodox to other people; and the surprising
fact is that he is usually right when he is orthodox, and equally right
when he is heretical. An essayist naturally has points of view which he
expresses in a different way to a novelist. A novelist, if he adheres to
what a novel should be--that is, I think, a simple tale--does not
necessarily have a particular point of view when he starts his book. An
essayist, on the other hand, starts with an idea and clothes it. Of
course, Chesterton is not an essayist in the really accepted manner of
an essayist. He is really more a brilliant exponent of an original point
of view. In other words, he essays to knock down opinions held by other
essayists, whether writers or politicians. It would be manifestly absurd
to praise Chesterton as being equal to Hazlitt, or condemn him as being
inferior to J.S. Mill. Comparisons are usually odious, which is
precisely the reason so much use is made of them. In this case any
comparison is not only odious; it is worse, it is merely futile, for
the very simple fact that there has been no essayist ever quite like
Chesterton, which is a compliment to him, because it proves what every
one who knows is assured, that he is unique.

There are, of course, as is to be expected, people who do not like his
essays. The reason is not far to seek, as in everything else people set
up for themselves standards which they do not like to see set aside.
Consequently people who had read Lamb, Hazlitt, Hume, and E.V. Lucas
astutely thought that no essayist could be such who did not adhere to
the style of one of these four. Therefore they were a little alarmed and
upset when there descended upon them a strange genius who not only upset
all the rules of essay writing, but was at the same time acclaimed by
all sections of the Press as one of the finest essayists of the day.

With the advent of Chesterton the essay received a shock. It had to
realize that it was a larger and wider thing than it had been before. As
it had been almost insular, so it became international; as it had been
almost theological in its orthodoxy, so it became in its catholicity
well-nigh heretical. Which is the best possible definition of a heresy?
It is the expanding of orthodoxy or the lessening of it. Thus Chesterton
was a pioneer. He gave to the essay a new impetus--almost, we might say,
a 'sketch' form; it dealt with subjects not so much in a dissertation as
in a dissection. Having dissected one way so that we are quite sure no
other method would do, he calmly dissects again in the opposite manner,
leaving us gasping, and finding that there really are two ways of
looking at every question--a thing we never realize till we think
about it. I have in this chapter taken five of Chesterton's most
characteristic books of essays, displaying the enormous depth of his
intellect, the vast range of subject, the unique use of paradox. Of
these five books I have again taken rather necessarily at random
subjects depicting the above Chestertonian attributes, with an attempt
to give some idea of what it really means when we say that he is an

That Chesterton's book of essays, entitled 'Heretics,' should have an
introductory and a concluding chapter on the importance of orthodoxy is
exactly what we should expect to find. There is a great deal of what is
undeniably true in this book; there is also, I venture to think, a good
deal that is undeniably untrue. I do not think it is unfair to say that
in some respects Chesterton allows his cleverness to lead him to certain
errors of judgment, and a certain levity in dealing with matters that
are to a number of people so sacred that to reinterpret them is almost
to blaspheme.

I am thinking of the chapter in this book that is a reply to Mr. McCabe,
an ex-Roman Catholic, who, being a keen logician, is now a rationalist.
He accuses Chesterton of joking with the things _de profundis_.

Certain clergymen have also taken exception to Chesterton's writings on
the ground of this supposed levity. It is merely that he sees that the
Bible has humour, because it has said that 'God laughed and winked.' I
do not think he intends to offend, but for many people any idea of
humour in the Bible is repugnant, and this view is not confined to

In an absolutely charming chapter Chesterton writes of the literature of
the servant girl, which is really the literature of Park Lane. It is the
literature of Park Lane, for the very obvious reason that it is probably
never read there; but the literature is about Park Lane, and is read by
those who may live as near it as Balham or Surbiton. What he contends,
and rightly, is that the general reader likes to hear about an
environment outside his own. It is inherent in us that we always really
want to be somewhere else; which is fortunate, as it makes it certain
that the world will never come to an end through a universal
contentment. It has been said that contentment is the essence of
perfection. It is equally true that the essence of perfection is
discontent, a striving for something else. This, I think, Chesterton
feels when he says of the penny novelette that it is the literature to
'teach a man to govern empires or look over the map of mankind.'

Rudyard Kipling finds a warm spot in Chesterton's heart, but he is a
little too militaristic, which is exactly what he is not. Kipling loves
soldiers, which is no real reason why he should be disliked as a
militarist. Many a servant girl loves a score of soldiers, she may even
write odes to her pet sergeant, but she is not necessarily a militarist.
Rudyard Kipling likes soldiers and writes of them. He does not, as
Chesterton lays to his charge, 'worship militarism.' He accuses Kipling
of a want of patriotism, which is about as absurd as accusing Chesterton
of a love of politics. But when he says that Kipling only knows England
as a place, he is on safe ground, because England is something that is
not bound by the confines of space.

Not being exactly a champion of Kipling, Chesterton turns to a different
kind of man, George Moore, and has nothing to say for him beyond that he
writes endless personal confessions, which most people do if there are
those who will read them. But not only this, poor George Moore 'doesn't
understand the Roman Catholic Church, he doesn't understand Thackeray,
he misunderstands Stevenson, he has no understanding of Christianity.'
It is, in fact, a hopeless case, but it is also possible that Chesterton
has not troubled to understand George Moore.

Mr. Bernard Shaw is, so Chesterton contends, a really horrible eugenist,
because he wants to get a super-man who, having more than two legs, will
be a vastly superior person to a man. Chesterton loves men. He tells us
why St. Peter was used to found the Church upon. It was because he 'was
a shuffler, a coward, and a snob--in a word, a man.' Even the
Thirty-Nine Articles and the Councils of Trent have failed to find a
better reason for the founding of the Church. It is a defence of the
fallibility of the Church, the practical nature of that Body, an
organization founded by a Man who had Divine powers in a unique way and
was God.

Presumably, then, the mistake of Shaw is that instead of trying to
improve man he wishes to invent a kind of demi-god.

Chesterton has a great deal to say for Christmas; in fact, he has no
sympathy for those superior beings who find Christmas out of date. Even
Swinburne and Shelley have attacked Christianity in the grounds of its
melancholy, showing a lamentable forgetfulness that this religion was
born at a time that had always been a season of joy. Chesterton is
annoyed with them, and is sure that Swinburne did not hang up his socks
on Christmas Eve, nor did Shelley. I wonder whether Chesterton hangs up
his socks on the eve of Christmas?

'Heretics' is a book that deals with a great number of subjects
universal in their scope. The writing is at times too paradoxical,
leading to obscurity of thought. There are splendid passages in this
book, which is, when all is said, brilliantly original, even if at times
a little puzzling.

              *       *       *       *       *

'Orthodoxy' is, I think, one of the most important of Chesterton's
books. The lasting importance of a book depends not so much on its
literary qualities or on its popularity, but rather on the theme

There are really two central themes handled in this book. One is of
Fairyland, the other is of the defence of Christianity; not that it is
either true or false, but that it is rational, or the most
shuffle-headed nonsense ever set to delude the human race. The method of
apology that Chesterton takes is one that would cause the average
theological student to turn white with fear.

The theological colleges, excellent as they are in endeavouring to train
efficient laymen into equally efficient priests, usually assume that the
best way to know about Christianity is to study Christian books. It is
the worst way, because these books are naturally biased in favour of it.
It is better to study any religion by seeing what the attackers have to
say against it. Then a personal judgment can be formed.

This is, I feel, the method that Chesterton adopts in his deep and
original treatise, 'Orthodoxy,' which is more than an essay and less
than a theological work.

The Chestertonian contention is that philosophers like Schopenhauer and
Nietzsche have embarked on the suicide of thought, and that a later
disciple to this self-destruction is Bernard Shaw.

In the same way these pseudo philosophers have attacked the Christian
religion, 'tearing the soul of Christ into silly strips labelled
altruism and egoism. They are alike puzzled by His insane magnificance
and His insane meekness.'

As I have said, the method to realize the worth of Christianity is to
read all the attacks on it. This is what Chesterton does. In doing so he
discovers that these attacks are the one thing that demonstrate the
strength of Christianity. Because the attackers reject it upon reasons
that are contradictory to each other. Thus some complain that it is a
gloomy religion; others go to the opposite extreme and accuse it of
pointing to a state of perpetual chocolate cream; yet again it is
attacked on grounds of effeminancy, it is upbraided as being fond of a
sickly sentimentalism.

Thus it is attacked on opposite grounds at once. It is condemned for
being pessimistic, it is blamed for being optimistic. From this position
Chesterton deduces that it is the only rational religion, because it
steers between the Scylla of pessimism and avoids the Charybdis of a
facile optimism. Regarding presumably the early Church she has also kept
from extremes. She has ignored the easy path of heresy, she has adhered
to the adventurous road of orthodoxy. She has avoided the Arian
materialism by dropping a Greek Iota; she has not succumbed to Eastern
influences, which would have made her forget she was the Church on earth
as well as in heaven. With tremendous commonsense she has remained
rational and chosen the middle course, which was one of the cardinal
virtues of the ancient Greek philosophers.

The Christian religion is, then, rational because attacked along
irrational grounds; the Church is also reasonable because she has not
been swayed by the attraction of heresy nor listened to the glib
fallacies of those who always want to make her something more or
something less.

              *       *       *       *       *

The other and lesser contention of the book is the wisdom of the land of
the Fairies. This is, Chesterton feels, the land where is found the
philosophy of the nursery that is expressed in fairy tales--tales that
every grown-up should read at Christmas.

Fairyland is for Chesterton the sunny land of commonsense. It is more,
it is a place that has a very definite religion; it is, in fact, really
the child's land of Christ. Take the lesson of Cinderella, says
Chesterton; it is really the teaching of the Prayer Book that the humble
shall be exalted, because humility is worthy of exaltation.

Or the Sleeping Beauty. Is it not the significance of how love can
bridge time? The prince would have been there to wake the princess had
she slept a thousand instead of a hundred years.

Yet again the land of the Fairies is the abode of reason. If Jack is the
son of a miller, then a miller is the father of Jack. It is no good in
Fairyland trying to prove that two and two do not make four, but it is
quite possible to imagine that the witch really did turn the unlucky
prince into a pig. After all, such a procedure is not a monopoly of the
fairies. Lesser persons than princes have been turned into pigs, not by
the wand of a witch, but by the wand of good or bad fortune.

              *       *       *       *       *

'Orthodoxy' is probably the sanest book that Chesterton has ever
written. It is, I venture to think, the work that will gain for him
immortality. It is a book on the greatest of themes, the reasonableness
of the Christian religion. There have been many books written to attack
the Christian religion, equally many to defend it, but Chesterton has
made his apology for the religion on original grounds--the
contradictories of the detractors of it. 'Orthodoxy' goes alone with
Christ into the mountain, and the eager multitudes receive the real
philosophy of Chesterton.

              *       *       *       *       *

The child who has eaten too much jam and feels that too much of a good
thing is a truism is rather like the philosopher who, having studied
everything, comes to the sad conviction that there is something wrong
with the world. The child finds that large quantities of jam are a
delusion; the philosopher discovers that the world is even more wrong
than he thought it was.

Sitting in his study, Chesterton, looking out on the garden which is the
world, discovers that there is something wrong with it, and it is caused
by the machinations of the 1,500 odd millions of people who, like ants,
crawl about its surface. 'What's wrong with the World?' is the result,
and a very entertaining book it is. Like many other sociological
treatises it leaves us still convinced that the world is wrong, because
we don't know what we really want.

The pessimist is convinced that the world is a bad place, the optimist
is sure that it can be good. That is the point of the book. Chesterton
has his own ideas of what is wrong, and he says so with astonishing

When this book was written, Feminism was demanding votes, and, not
getting them at once, became naughty, and tied itself to the House of
Commons or pushed policemen over. Chesterton devotes a large section of
this book to demanding what is the mistake of Feminism.

'The Feminists probably agree that womanhood is under shameful tyranny
in the shops and mills. I want to destroy this tyranny. They (the
Feminists) want to destroy womanhood.' They do this by attempting to
drive women into the world and turn them away from the home. This is
what is wrong with the woman's world: they have it that the home is
narrow, that the world is wide. The converse is the truth: woman is the
star of the home. It is a pity if she has to make chains--significant
word--at Cradley Heath.

Education is not for Chesterton an unqualified success; there is a
mistake about it somewhere. In fact, there is 'no such thing as
education.' Education is not an object, it is a 'transmission' or an
'inheritance.' It means that a certain standard of conduct is passed on
from generation to generation. The keynote of education for Chesterton
is undoubtedly dogma, and dogma is certainly the result of a narrowing

At this present time there is a controversy about the use of our public
schools. Whenever a harassed editor in Fleet Street cannot think what to
put in those two spare columns, he works up a 'stunt' on the use or
otherwise of the public schools. This is always exciting, as the public
schools hardly ever see the controversy, being blissfully immersed in
the military strategy of Hannibal or the political intrigues of the
Caesars. Thus the controversy is conducted by those who generally think
that commerce is superior to Greek, money-grubbing to good manners.

Even Chesterton must say something about these schools that are the
backbone of England. Unfortunately he thinks that they are weakening the
country, that the headmasters 'are teaching only the narrowest of
manners.' But the public schools 'manufacture gentlemen; they are
factories for the making of aristocrats.' If he is right, the more of
these schools there are the better it is for the country.

It is well that he is not averse to Greek. In these days the classics
are looked upon as waste of time. Political economy and profiteering are
more useful. As he says, a man of the type of Carnegie would die in a
Greek city. I am not sure whether this is not unfair. The real use of
Greek is that it teaches culture. There is use in Plato's philosophy; it
is quite as useful as the knowledge acquired that results in peers made,
not born. I don't think Chesterton understands the public schools at
all well; they are both bad and good, but at least they are very

He hasn't a great deal to say for Imperialism. Imperialism is a very
difficult ethic; it is not easy to say whether it is a selfish or an
unselfish policy.

Thus we may quite conceivably pat ourselves on the back and say that, as
English rule is good for natives, it is only right that we should keep
India; but we might find that an equally good and more popular reason
for doing so would be to prevent any one else having her. Thus our
Imperial policy is a little selfish and a little unselfish.

For Chesterton, Imperialism is something that is both weak and perilous.
It is really, he contends, a false idealism which tends to try and make
people locally discontented, contented with pseudo visions of distant
realms where the cities are of gold, where blue skies are never hidden
by yellow fog. But is it a false idealism? If it is, it is that
conception which has made men leave their homes in England to build up
the Imperial Empire which is the daughter of the Great Imperial Island.
The vision may not be always useful, but Imperialism has done much to
make England and Empire synonymous.

Business is, according to Chesterton, a nasty thing that will not wait.
It hates leisure, it has no use for brotherhood, it is one of the things
that is wrong in the world--not, of course, that business is wrong in
itself, but the method. Thus he disagrees that if a soap factory cannot
be run on brotherhood lines the brotherhood must be scrapped. He would
have the converse to be better.

He contends that it is better to be without soap than without society.
As a matter of fact, society without soap would be an abomination.
Society without any brotherhood would soon cease to be a society at all.
Utopia is a little soap, a little society, with a flavouring of
brotherhood in each.

Another and obviously good reason that the world is wrong is that it is
only half finished. This is a matter for extreme optimism; it is the
one great thing that makes it certain that the world will be found all
right if it comes to an end. That is, if it delays long enough for the
Irish question to be settled.

This is what Chesterton contends in this fine book, that reforms are not
reforms at all, rather the same things dressed up in other clothes.
Values are set up on false standards. Women in trying to become
emancipated are likely to become slaves; the fear of the past is given
over to a too delicate introspection of the probable vices and virtues
of generations not yet born.

Imperialism is liable to a false idealism, drawing men from Seven Dials
to find Utopia in Brixton. The public schools are weakening the country
in some respects. Education is not education at all; in fact, we really
must start the wrong world over again. I don't quite see where
Chesterton proposes we are to start, or exactly how, whether backwards
or forwards. Perhaps, as in 'Orthodoxy,' the middle course is the happy
and safe one.

              *       *       *       *       *

'Tremendous Trifles' is a Chestertonian philosophy of the importance and
interest of small things. It is a remarkable thing that we never see the
things that we daily gaze upon. Chesterton finds scope for all kinds of
subjects in this book, from a 'Piece of Chalk' to 'A Dragon's
Grandmother.' Provided we believe in dragons, there is good reason to
suppose that they have grandmothers. It is not so easy to write a good
essay on the subject. Chesterton does so with great skill, and it makes
it quite certain to be so intellectual as to hate fairies is a piteous

What he brings out in this particular essay is that what modern
intellectualism has done is to make 'the hero extraordinary, the tale
ordinary,' whereas the fairy tale makes 'the hero ordinary, the tale

In this book of short essays it is only possible to take a few, but care
has been taken to attempt to show the enormous versatility of
Chesterton's mind. It has been said quite wrongly that Chesterton cannot
describe pathos. This is certainly untrue. He can so admirably describe
humour that he cannot help knowing the pathetic, which is often so akin
to humour. I am not sure that this ability to describe the melancholy is
not to be seen in one of these essays that narrates how he travelled in
a train in which there was a dead man whose end he never knew.

Perhaps there is nothing more interesting than turning out one's
pockets--all sorts of long forgotten mementoes cause a lump in the
throat or a gleam in the eye; but it is very annoying, on arriving at a
station where tickets are collected, to find everything that relates to
your past twenty years of life and be unable to find the ticket that
makes you a legitimate rider on the iron way. This is what Chesterton
describes in a delightful essay.

One day, so Chesterton tells us in the 'Riddle of the Ivy,' he happened
to be leaving Battersea, and being asked where he was going, calmly
replied to 'Battersea.' Which is really to say that we find our way to
Brixton more eagerly by way of Singapore than by way of Kennington. In a
few words, it is what we mean when we say, as every traveller says at
times, 'Home, sweet home.' I fancy this is what Mr. Chesterton means. It
is a beautiful thought--a fine love of the home, a strange understanding
of the wish of the traveller who once more wishes to see the old cottage
before he journeys 'across the Bar.'

The sight of chained convicts being taken to a prison causes Chesterton
to essay on the 'filthy torture' of our prisons, the whole system of
which is a 'relic of sin.' Perhaps he is right! But is it that the
prisons are wrong, or is it that society makes criminals? After all,
convicts are chained that they shall not endure a worse penalty for
attempted escape. At present prisons are as necessary to the State as
milk is to a baby; the thing against them is that they turn criminal men
into criminal devils.

At his home in Beaconsfield, Chesterton has a wonderful toy theatre. He
writes in this book a sketch about it. This toy theatre has a certain
philosophy. 'It can produce large events in a small space; it could
represent the earthquake in Jamaica or the Day of Judgment.' We must
take Chesterton's word for it. I am not convinced that the toy theatre
of Chesterton has added to philosophy; I don't think it has made any
remarkable contribution to thought, nor is it, as he claims, more
interesting and better than a West-end theatre; but I do believe that in
having amused a few hundred children it has a place in the Book of
Life--perhaps near the name of Santa Claus.

While it is true that 'Tremendous Trifles' is not nearly as important as
some of the Chesterton books, it is true to say that it is a remarkably
pleasant book about small things that are really tremendous when we come
to study them.

              *       *       *       *       *

'The Defendant' is, as the title suggests, a defence of all kinds of
things that are usually attacked by other people.

It takes a brave man to defend 'penny dreadfuls.' Chesterton assumes
this rôle. He defends them on their remarkable powers of imagination.
One has only to study Sexton Blake to discover the intricate psychology
of that wondrous personality who can solve the foulest murder or unravel
stories that the divorce courts would quail before.

There is something to be said for the skeleton so long as he doesn't
come out of his cupboard. Chesterton defends skeletons. 'The truth is
that man's horror of the skeleton is not horror of death at all; it is
that the skeleton reminds him that his appearance is shamelessly
grotesque.' But he sees no objection to this at all. After all, he says,
the frog and the hippopotamus are happy. Why, then, should man dislike
it that his anatomy without flesh is inelegant?

It is to be expected that Chesterton would write a defence of baby
worship, because they are so 'very serious and in consequence very
happy.' 'The humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of
all the bonds that hold the Cosmos together.' Probably we are all agreed
that the defence of baby worship is a desirable thing; possibly it is
the only point upon which there is universal agreement with Chesterton.

'The Defendant' is a series of papers that are light, but conceal a
depth of thought behind them. They demonstrate that there is something
to be said for everything which may be a slight solution of the eternal
problem that theological professors are paid to try and discover, the
problem of evil. It may be that there is really no such thing, but it
would be disastrous to these professors to discover this, so the dear
old problem goes on from year to year.

As an essayist, Chesterton is never dull: the philosophy contained in
his essays is not prosy. The only fault is that he is at times so clever
that it is a little difficult to know what he means. But this really
does not matter, as a shrewd critic of one of his books made it public
through the Press that Chesterton did not know himself what he meant.
But I wonder if he did really know?

_Chapter Two_


If there is fault to be found in Chesterton's masterly study of Charles
Dickens it lies in the fact that in parts of the book the meaning is not
always clear, or, rather, it is not always so at a first reading.
Whether this may be justly termed a fault depends largely upon what the
reader of a critical study demands.

If he desires that he shall read Chesterton superficially and yet
understand, he will be doomed to disappointment. Perhaps of all writers
Chesterton must be read with the head between the hands, with a fierce
determination that the meaning veiled in brilliant paradox shall be
sought out.

He is not only a keen critic, he is also a deliberate commentator. The
difference is fundamental. The commentator builds upon the foundation
the critic has erected; he does not merely state what he thinks about a
book or character, rather he explains the criticism already made.

This is the method adopted with regard to Dickens. Chesterton has
written a commentary on the soul of Dickens, he has not in any strict
sense written a biography; this was not necessary; the difficulty of
Dickens lies in the interpretation of his work; his life, though having
a great influence on his writings, has been written so often that
Chesterton has refrained from building on 'another's foundation.' In a
word, it is an intensely original work, far more than our critic's
companion book on Browning.

As was Browning born to a world in the throes of the aftermath of the
French Revolution, so was Dickens. Chesterton lays great stress on the
youth of Dickens; it is only right that he should do this; the early
life of Dickens was probably responsible for the wonderful genius of his
art. The blacking factory that nearly killed the physical Dickens gave
birth to the literary Dickens. Dickens was, in fact, born at the
psychological moment, which is not to say that we are born at the
unpsychological moment, but that Dickens was born at a time that allowed
his natural powers to be used to the best advantage.

Chesterton feels this strongly. 'The background of the Dickens era was
just that background that was eminently suitable to him'; it was a
background that needed a Dickens as much as the pagan world, with all
its Greek philosophies, had needed a Christ.

He begins his study of Dickens with a keen survey of the Dickens period.
'It was,' he says, 'a world that encouraged anybody to anything. And in
England and literature its living expression was Dickens. It is useless
for us to attempt to imagine Dickens and his life unless we are able to
imagine his confidence in common men.'

It is this supreme confidence in common men that was the keynote to the
wonderful power of Dickens in making characters from those who were in a
world sense undistinguished. On this position Chesterton lays great
stress. It was this, he thinks, that made him an optimist. It was the
same position that made Browning an optimist. It is the disbelief in the
Divine image in Man that makes the cynic and the pessimist.

Swift hated men because they were capable of better things but would not
realize it. Dickens knew men were kings, though ordinary men; the result
was that he loved humanity. It is a queer point of psychology that with
the same wish two such minds as Swift and Dickens came to the extremes
of the emotions of love and hate.

In some ways Dickens was more than a maker of books, he was a maker of
worlds; he tried to make 'not only a book but a cosmos.' This may be a
curious and obscure kind of clericalism that popularly expresses itself
as an effort to run with the hare and follow with the hounds, but is
really an heroic attempt to see both sides of the question, and is not a
cheap pandering after popularity.

Many critics have disliked Dickens because of this tendency of
universalism, a tendency liable to intrude on minds of a giant intellect
and a ready sympathy. Chesterton does not think that Dickens was right
in this attitude of universalism, and says so with, I think, a certain
amount of cheap disdain. 'He was inclined to be a literary Whiteley, a
universal provider.' Really Dickens wanted to have a say about
everything, in which he is strangely like Chesterton.

The result of this was a result that meant the greatest value: it meant
and was 'David Copperfield.' The book was for Chesterton a classic, and
it was so because it was an autobiography. It is in this work that
Dickens makes his defence of the rather exaggerated situations in some
of his books, for in this book Dickens proves that his greatest romance
is based on the experiences of his own life. 'David Copperfield is the
great answer of a romancer to the realists. David says in effect, "What!
you say that the Dickens tales are too purple really to have happened.
Why, this is what happened to me, and it seemed the most purple of all.
You say that the Dickens heroes are too handsome and triumphant! Why, no
prince or paladin in Ariosto was ever so handsome and triumphant as the
head boy seemed to me walking before me in the sun. You say the Dickens
villains are too black. Why, there was no ink in the Devil's inkstand
black enough for my own stepfather when I had to live in the same house
with him."'

This is the point that Chesterton brings out so well. The Dickens
characters are not overdrawn because, though they move between book
covers, their originals have moved on the face of the earth; they have
moved with Dickens and he has made them his own. His brilliant apology
for this alleged 'overdrawing' is one of the most effective replies ever
penned to superior Dickens detractors. It is effective because it is
true; it is true because it is obvious that Dickens created that which
lay hidden in his own mind, the misery of his factory days.

It is, I think, with this view in mind that Chesterton pays so much
attention to that period of Dickens' life which he spent in the blacking
factory, with its crude noise, its blatant vulgarity, its vile language
that left the small boy Dickens' sick, but with a sickness that
discovered his literary genius. The factory was the germ that made the
great writer. Chesterton is a true critic of Dickens because he has this
somewhat singular insight of seeing the importance of the early miseries
of Dickens' life with regard to their influence on his literary output
and his queerly favoured delineation of common folks, the sort of people
we always meet but hardly ever talk about because we are foolish enough
to think them ordinary.

              *       *       *       *       *

It is from the account of the early life of Dickens that Chesterton
gently leads us to the birth of the immortal Mr. Pickwick, that supreme
Englishman who is a byword amongst even those who scarcely know Dickens.
The birth pangs of the advent of Pickwick was a sharp quarrel 'that did
no good to Dickens, and was one of those which occurred far too
frequently in his life.'

Without any hesitation for Chesterton, 'Pickwick Papers' is Dickens'
finest achievement, which is a pleasant enough problem if we happen to
remember that he also wrote 'David Copperfield.' Possibly it is really
unfair to compare them. 'Pickwick Papers' is not in the strict sense a
novel; 'David Copperfield' is a novel even if it is an autobiography. At
any rate Pickwick was a fairy, and as fairies are pretty elastic he
probably was in that category of beings, but he was even more a royal
fairy, none other than the 'fairy prince.'

In Pickwick, Dickens made a great discovery, which was that he could
write ordinary stuff like the 'Sketches by Boz,' and also could produce
Mr. Pickwick and write 'David Copperfield,' which was to say that
Dickens discovered he had a good chance of being the Shakespeare of

'It is in "Pickwick Papers" that Dickens became a mythologist rather
than a novelist; he dealt with men who were gods.' That is, no doubt,
that they became household gods; in other words, as familiar as the
characters of Shakespeare.

There is one tremendous outstanding characteristic of Dickens which
Chesterton brings out with considerable force. It is that above all
things Dickens created characters. It is almost as if the setting of his
books were on a stage where the environment changes but the essentials
of the characters remain unchanged.

The story is almost subordinated to the drawing of the principal
character; it is almost a modern idea of the psychoanalytical kind of
novel that our young novelists love to draw. But still there is the
great difference that the characters of Dickens pursue there own way
regardless of the trend of events round them.

Naturally the modern novel is inferior to some of Dickens' works, but
they do not deserve the hard things Chesterton says about them. Thus he
remarks in passing that the modern novel is 'devoted to the bewilderment
of a weak young clerk who cannot decide which woman he wants to marry or
which new religion he believes in; we still give this knock-kneed cad
the name of hero.'

This is, I think, unfair. The modern novel is very often still a good
healthy love tale; the hero is more often than not a gentleman who has
not the brains to be a cad; his trouble about marriage is that he wants
to marry the right woman to their mutual well being; he is neither a cad
nor a hero, but an ordinary Englishman whom we need not walk half a mile
to see; he usually marries a girl who can be seen in any suburb or at
any church bazaar. I have dwelt on this at some length, as Chesterton
has a tendency to despise modern novelists while being one himself.

At this period, when 'Pickwick' had once and for all brought fame to
Dickens, it will be interesting to see why Dickens attained the enormous
popularity he did. He was, our critic thinks, a 'great event not only in
literature but also in history.'

He considers that Dickens was popular in a sense that we of the
twentieth century cannot understand. In fact, he goes so far as to say
that there are no really popular authors to-day.

This is probably not entirely true. When we say an author is popular we
do not mean that necessarily, as Chesterton seems to suggest, he is a
'best seller'; rather we call him popular in the sense that a large
number of people find pleasure in reading him, even if the subject is
not a pleasant one. Dickens was popular in a different way: he was read
by a public who wished his story might never end. They not only loved
his books, they loved his characters even more. No matter that there
might be five sub-stories running alongside of the main one, the central
character retained the public affection. His characters were known
outside their particular stories, and not only that, this was by no
means confined to the principal ones.

They were known, as Chesterton points out, as Sherlock Holmes is known
to-day. But even so there is again a difference. People do not speak of
the minor characters of Conan Doyle's tales as they do, for instance, of

              *       *       *       *       *

It is now convenient to turn to the Christmas literature of Dickens. I
am convinced that Chesterton has very badly misconstrued the character
of Scrooge, that delightful person whose one virtue was consistency.

Above everything, Scrooge was consistent; he hated Christmas as we hate
anything that does not agree with our temperament. Merry Christmas was
nonsense to him because he did not know how to be merry. He was a cold,
cynical bachelor, and at that, so far, was perfectly within the law,
moral and legal.

But Chesterton, by rather an unfortunate attempt to be too original, has
turned him into a filthy hypocrite who needed no appearances of spirits
whatever; for he says of Scrooge, 'He is only a crusty old bachelor, and
had, I strongly suspect, given away turkeys secretly all his life.'

When Chesterton says that Scrooge gave away turkeys secretly all his
life it is merely saying that the whole attitude of Scrooge to life was
a silly and unmeaning pose, which makes him ridiculous, and robs the
'Christmas Carol' of all its real worth, that of the miraculous
conversion of Scrooge.

But, then, the actual story does not mean much for Chesterton: 'the
repentance of Scrooge is highly improbable.' If it is true that Scrooge
really did give away turkeys secretly, then it is quite obvious that
Scrooge never did repent; he was past it. But I fancy that Chesterton
has erred badly here; he has attempted without success to put a secret
meaning into a simple and beautiful story.

'Chimes' is, for Chesterton, an attack on cant. It was a story written
by Dickens to protest against all he hated in the nature of
oppression. Dickens hated the vulgar cant that only helps to bring
self-advertisement: the ethic that the poor must listen to the rich, not
because the rich are the best law-givers, but because society is at
present so constituted that no other method can be adopted.

Dickens loved the attitude the poor always take to Christmas; it is that
attitude which is the proof that at its bedrock humanity is extremely
lovable. Chesterton is entirely in agreement with Dickens on this
matter. 'There is nothing,' he says, 'upon which the poor are more
criticized than on the point of spending large sums on small feasts;
there is nothing in which they are more right.'

Dickens did not in any way forget that the real spirit of Christmas is
to be found in the cheery group round the blazing fire. 'The Cricket on
the Hearth' is a pleasant tale about all that we associate with
Christmas, that very thing that has made Hearth and Christmas
synonymous; yet Chesterton considers this one of the weakest of the
Dickens' stories, which is a surprising criticism for a writer who
really loves Christmas as he does.

              *       *       *       *       *

In a later period of Dickens, Chesterton informs us of his brief entry
into the complex and exciting world that has its headquarters in Fleet
Street. For a short period Dickens occupied the editorship of the _Daily
News_, but the environment was not a very congenial one. Dickens was
unsettled with that strange restlessness that seizes all literary men at
some time or other. This was the time that saw the publication of
'Dombey and Son.' Chesterton thinks that the essential genius found its
most perfect expression in this work though the treatment is grotesque.
This book is almost, so our critic thinks, 'a theological one: it
attempts to distinguish between the rough pagan devotion of the father
and the gentler Christian affection of the mother.'

The grotesque manner of treatment of this work was as natural as the
employment of the grotesque by Browning. Dickens must work in his own
way, in the manner that suited his inmost soul; he could not be made to
write to order. In a brilliant paradox Chesterton says of 'Dombey and
Son': the 'story of Florence Dombey is incredible, although it is true,'
which is what many people feel about Christianity. 'Dombey and Son' was
the outlet for that curious psychology of Dickens which could get the
best out of a pathetic incident by approaching it from a grotesque
angle. It came, as Chesterton points out in his own inimitable way,
'into the inner chamber by coming down the chimney.' Which demonstrates
the ever nearness of pathos to humour, of the absurd to the pathetic.

It will not be out of place to refer at this time to some of the defects
with which people have charged Dickens. Chesterton does not agree with
the critics on these points, but admits that these charges have been
levelled against Dickens. It will be advisable to take one or two
examples of these alleged flaws.

There is that most popular thing of which Dickens is accused, that of
exaggeration. Many people are quite incredulous that there could ever
have existed such a character as Little Nell. Chesterton, however,
thinks that Dickens did know a girl of this nature, and that Little Nell
was based on her. Little Nell is not really more improbable than 'Eric,'
the famous hero of Dean Farrar, and he was certainly based on a living

People who live in these enlightened days are piously shocked at the
amount of drinking described by Dickens. Well-bred and garrulous ladies
have shuddered at the scenes described, and have declared that Dickens
was at least fond of the Bacchanalian element. So he was, but the reason
was not that he loved hard drinking, but that, as our critic brings out,
drinking was the symbol of hospitality as roast beef is the symbol of a
Sunday in a thousand English rectories. As Dickens described the social
life of England he could not leave out its most characteristic feature
and shudder in pious horror that the red wine dyed old England a merry

              *       *       *       *       *

It would be no doubt an exaggeration to call Dickens a socialist. What
he saw was that there was a mass of beings that was called humanity,
that the two ends of the political pole were indifferent to this mass.
The party to which a man gave his allegiance did not matter as long as
that party worked for man's ultimate good. Chesterton is quite sure that
Dickens was not a socialist; he was not the kind that ranted at street
corners and dined in secret at the Ritz, nor was he of the kind who said
all men are equal but I am a little better. He was a socialist in the
sense that he hated oppression of any kind.

'Hard Times' strikes a note that is a little short of being harsh. The
reason that Dickens may have exaggerated Bounderby is that he really
disliked him. The Dickensian characters undoubtedly suffered from their
delineator's likes and dislikes.

About this time Dickens wrote a book that was unique for him; it was a
book that dealt with the French Revolution, and was called 'The Tale of
Two Cities.' Chesterton does not think that Dickens really understood
this gigantic upheaval; in fact, he says his attitude to it was quite a
mistaken one. Even, thinks our critic, Carlyle didn't know what it
meant. Both see it as a bloody riot, both are mistaken. The reason that
Carlyle and Dickens didn't know all about it was that they had the good
fortune to be Englishmen; a very good supposition that Chesterton has
still something to learn of that Revolution.

After all, the main point of 'The Tale of Two Cities' is the exquisite
pathos of it. Whether its attitude to the French Revolution is
absolutely accurate does not matter very much for the reader who is not
a keen historical student.

With 'Hard Times' and 'A Tale of Two Cities' Dickens has struck a graver
note. This is peculiarly emphasized in 'Great Expectations.' This story
is 'characterized by a consistency and quietude of individuality which
is rare in Dickens.' It is really a book with a moral--that life in the
limelight is not always synonymous with getting the best out of it.
Really, the hero behaves in a sneakish manner. Probably Dickens doesn't
like him, and the writer is still on the stern side.

In 1864, so Chesterton tells us, Dickens was in a merrier mood, and
published 'Our Mutual Friend,' a book that has, as our critic says, 'a
thoroughly human hero and a thoroughly human villain.' This work is 'a
satire dealing with the whims and pleasures of the leisured class.' But
this is by no means a monopoly of the so-called idle rich: the
hardworking middle and poorer classes have whims and pleasures in a like
manner, but have not so much opportunity in indulging in them.

As I have indicated, the story is not the principal part of the Dickens'
literature; it is the drawing of characters to which he pays so much
attention. It will not be out of place at this time to see what our
critic has to say with regard to this tendency of Dickens. It is an
essential of Dickens, and is therefore of vast import to any critique on

The essence of Dickens, for Chesterton, is that he makes kings out of
common men: those folks who are the ordinary people of this strange,
fascinating world, those who have no special claim to a place in the
stars, those who, when they die, do not have two lines in any but a
local paper, those who are common but are never commonplace.

There is a vast difference between the common and the commonplace, as
Chesterton points out. Death is common to all, yet it is never
commonplace; it is in its very essence a grand and noble thing, because
it is a proof of our common humanity; it gives the lie that the Pope is
of more importance than the dustman; it makes the busy editor equal to
the newsboy shouting the papers under his office windows.

The common man is he who does not receive any special distinction:
universities do not compete to do him honour, his name is but mentioned
in a small circle. These are those of whom Dickens wrote. 'It is,' says
Chesterton, 'in private life that we find the great characters. They are
too great to get into the public world.' They are people who are
natural--natural in a sense that the holders of high office never can
be. Dickens could only write of natural people, so he wrote of common
men: 'You will find him adrift as an impecunious commercial traveller
like Micawber; you will find him but one of a batch of silly clerks like
Swiveller; you will find him as an unsuccessful actor like Crumples; you
will find him as an unsuccessful doctor like Sawyer; you will always
find the rich and reeking personality where Dickens found it among the

Not only were the characters Dickens chose common men, they were also
'great fools,' because Chesterton will have us believe that a man can
be entirely great while he is entirely foolish. It is no doubt in the
spiritual sense so admirably expressed in the Pauline Epistles, where
'foolish in the eyes of the world but wise before God' is a condition
that is of merit.

'Mr. Toots is great because he is foolish.' He is great because he has a
soul that glorifies his weak and foolish body, not that he is great
because, _ipso facto_, he is foolish.

There is a great and permanent value in the writings of Dickens. I
cannot do better than quote our critic: 'If we are to look for lessons,
here at least are the last and deepest lessons of Dickens. It is in our
own daily life that we are to look for the portents and the prodigies.
This is the truth, not merely of the fixed figures of our life, the
wife, the husband, the fool that fills the day. Every day we neglect
Tootses and Swivellers, Guppys and Joblings, Simmerys and Flashers. This
is the real gospel of Dickens, the inexhaustible opportunities offered
by the liberty and variety of man. It is when we pass our own private
gate and open our own secret door that we step into the land of the

              *       *       *       *       *

It will now be convenient to consider the question of the attitude of
our critic to the 'Mystery of Edwin Drood,' that tale that has produced
one of those literary mysteries that are so dear to a number of folks of
the kind who would be disappointed were the problem to be finally
solved. 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' was cut short by the sudden death
that fell upon Dickens on a warm June night some half century ago.

For Chesterton the book 'might have proved to be the most ambitious that
Dickens ever planned.' It is non-Dickensian in the sense that its value
depends entirely on a story. The workmanship is very fine. The book was
purely and simply a detective story. 'Bleak House' was the nearest
approach to its style, but the mystery there was easy to unravel. It was
as though Dickens wished in 'Edwin Drood' to make one last 'splendid
and staggering' appearance before the curtain rang down, not to be rung
up again until the last Easter morning.

'Yes,' says Chesterton, 'there were many other Dickenses, 'an
industrious Dickens, a public spirited Dickens, but the last one (that
is Edwin Drood) was the great one. The wild epitaph of Mrs. Sapsea,
"Canst thou do likewise?" should be the serious epitaph of Dickens.'

              *       *       *       *       *

It is more than fifty years since Dickens died. What is the future of
Dickens likely to be? At least, Chesterton has no doubt of the permanent
influence of Dickens; he is as sure of immortality as is Shakespeare.
The kings of the earth die, yet their works remain; the princes pass on
but are not entirely forgotten; writers write and in their turn sleep;
but there is that to which in every age we inscribe the word Immortal.
It is enough to say that Dickens is immortal because he is Dickens.
There is a further reason, that he proved what all the world had been
saying, that common humanity is a holy thing. To quote Chesterton: 'He
did for the world what the world could not do for itself.' Dickens'
creation was poetry--it dealt with the elementals; it is therefore

In final words he says, 'We shall not be further troubled with the
little artists who found Dickens too sane for their sorrows and too
clear for their delights. But we have a long way to travel before we get
back to what Dickens meant; and the passage is a long, rambling English
road, a twisting road such as Mr. Pickwick travelled.'

'But the road leads to eternity, because the inn is at the end of the
road, and at that inn is a goodly company of common men who are immortal
because Dickens made them. Here we shall meet Dickens and all his
characters, and when we shall drink again it shall be from great flagons
in the tavern at the end of the world.'

              *       *       *       *       *

What, then, is the essential part of Chesterton's study of Charles
Dickens? It is certainly not a biography; it is for all practical
purposes a keen study of what Dickens was, what he wrote, why he wrote
as he did, why he has a place in literature no one else has.

There are faults in the book--it would be a poor book if it had none. At
times I think Chesterton allows his genius to overcome his critical
judgment. Particularly is this so in his strange misconstruction of the
character of Scrooge. But this merely demonstrates yet once more that
Dickens, like Christ, is unique, because no one has ever completely
understood him.

The book is a tribute by a great writer to a greater writer, by a great
man to a great man, by a complex personality to a complex personality;
above all it is a tribute by a lover of the things of the 'doorstep' to
a writer who has made the doorstep and the street the road to heaven,
because the beings who pass along have been made immortal.

When the critics of Dickens meet at the inn there will be none more
worthy of a place close to the Master Writer than Chesterton.

_Chapter Three_


There are no doubt thousands of people who would be annoyed to be
thought the reverse of well read who nevertheless know Thackeray only as
a name. They know that he was a really great English novelist--they may
even know that he lived as a contemporary of Dickens--but they do not
know a line of any of his works.

In lesser manner Dickens is unknown to very many people of the present
day who could tell you intelligently of every modern book that is
produced. The reason is, I think, one that is not so generally thought
of as might be expected.

It is often said that Thackeray and Dickens are out of date, that they
have had their day, that this era of tube trains and other abominations
cannot fall into the background of lumbering stage coaches.

This is, I think, a profound and grave error. It is an error because it
presupposes that human interest changes with the advent of different
means of transport: that Squeers is no longer of interest because he
would now travel to Yorkshire by the Great Northern Railway and would
have lunch in a luncheon car instead of inside a four-horse stage coach.

The fundamental reason that modern people do not read these great
authors is that they are not encouraged to do so. The very best way to
instil a love of Thackeray into the modern world is to make the modern
world read just so much of him that its voracious appetite is sharpened
to wish for more.

In an altogether admirable series of the masters of literature Thackeray
finds a place, and treatment of him is left to Chesterton, who writes a
fine introductory 'Biography' and then takes picked passages from his
writings. This is, I think, the most useful means possible of
popularizing an author. It requires a good deal of pluck in these days
to sit down and steadily pursue a way through a long book of Thackeray
unless it has been proved, by the perusal of a selected passage, that
riches in the book warrant the act of courage in beginning the work.

In this chapter it will be convenient to pay special attention to the
introduction that is so ably contributed by Chesterton. It will only be
possible to refer to the passages he has selected from Thackeray, and
the reader must judge of the merit of the choosing. It is one of the
hardest things possible to choose representative passages from a great
writer. Shall he choose those that display the literary qualities of the
writer, shall he choose those which depict his powers of drama, shall he
select those which bring out the humour of the writer, shall he pick at
random and let the passage stand or fall on its own merits? These are
questions that must be faced in a work of the nature of Chesterton's
Thackeray. What the method has been will, I hope, be clear at the end of
this chapter.

It was Thackeray's expressed wish that there should be no biography
written of him, a position that might indicate extreme modesty, colossal
conceit, or distinct cowardice. Whatever the reason, it has not been
entirely obeyed, and rightly. A man of the power of Thackeray cannot
live without the world being in some way better; it is only good that
those who never knew him in the flesh should at least know him in a
book. It is not enough that, as Chesterton points out, he 'was of all
novelists the most autobiographical,' which is not to say that he wrote
unending personal confessions with a very large I, but rather that his
books were drawn from the experiences of his life, a field that is
productive of the richest literary worth.

Thackeray was born, we are told, in the year 1811, so that he was a year
old when the world received two babies who were like ten thousand other
babies, except that they happened to be Browning and Dickens. It was the
time when the world trembled, because that mighty soldier Napoleon stood
with arms folded, waiting to strike, it knew not where. It was the time
when military genius reached its height, a height that could be only
brought low by one thing, and that was an English General with a long
nose and a cocked hat.

Although Thackeray was born in Calcutta, he was as English as he could
possibly be. But he did not forget his Eastern beginning. 'A certain
vague cosmological quality was always mixed with his experience, and it
was his favourite boast that he had seen men and cities like Ulysses.'
Which is to say that he had not only seen the world, he had felt it; if
he had not seen a one-eyed giant, he had at least seen a two-eyed Hindu.

His early life followed the ordinary life of a thousand other boys born
of Anglo-Indian parents; that was, he went to school, where 'a girl
broke his heart and a boy broke his nose,' and he discovered that the
nose took longer to mend.

At Cambridge, Chesterton tells us, Thackeray found that it was a quite
easy thing to sit down and play cards and lose £1,500 in an evening, a
fact that very probably was more useful to him than twenty degrees.
Trinity College was the Thackeray College: it has had no more famous
son. It was said that Thackeray could order a dinner in every language
in Europe, which is to say he could have dined in comfort in any
restaurant in Soho.

From Cambridge, we learn, he made his way to the Bar, and at the same
time wrote articles in the hope that some editor might keep them from
the waste-paper basket. Chesterton tells us an interesting legend that
about this time Thackeray offered to illustrate the books of Dickens.
The offer was declined, which he thinks was 'a good thing for Dickens'
books and a good thing for Thackeray's.' Whether Thackeray ever really
did meet Dickens does not matter much; it is at least picturesque; 'it
affects the imagination as much as the meeting with Napoleon.'

There has always been what is for Chesterton a silly discussion--a
controversy as to whether Thackeray was a cynic. This was because he
happened to write first about villains, then about heroes; villains are
always more interesting than heroes, and not infrequently are much
better mannered. A cynic is a person who doesn't take the trouble to
find the motives for things, or he takes it for granted that the motives
are never disinterested ones. To say that Thackeray was a cynic because
he drew a large number of villains is as untrue as to say Swift was a
cynic because he wrote satire. Thackeray wrote about villains because he
wished to also write about heroes; Swift was satirical because he had
the intelligence to see that his contemporaries were fools when they
might have been wise. The cynics are the people of to-day who write
books which attribute low motives to every one, which turn love into
lust, which care not what is written so long as it can be made certain
that there is nothing in the world which has not a hidden meaning.

The first appearance of Thackeray in literature was in 'Fraser's
Magazine,' under the pseudo name of Michael Angelo Titmarsh. It is on
these unimportant papers that Chesterton thinks was based the attack on
Thackeray for being a cynic.

In passing, it is not necessary to say more than that Thackeray's
marriage ended in a horrible manner: Mrs. Thackeray was sent to an
asylum. 'I would do it over again,' said Thackeray; which was a 'fine
thing to say.' It was really carrying out 'for better or worse,' which
often enough really means for better only.

              *       *       *       *       *

It will now be well at once to plunge into the very heart of Thackeray,
that heart which beat beneath the huge, gaunt frame. The two books which
have made his name famous, and what Chesterton thinks of them, must be
now gone into.

'The Book of Snobs' was one of those literary rarities that has genius
in its very name. No one probably really thinks himself a snob; every
one likes to read of one. Thackeray brought snobbishness to a classic.
There had been books of scoundrels, there had been books of heroes,
there had been books of nincompoops, now there was a book of those
people who abound in every community, and who are snobs.

'This work was much needed and very admirably done. The solemn
philosophic framework, the idea of treating snobbishness as a science,
was original and sound; for snobbishness is indeed a disease in our

Unfortunately Chesterton is not nearly hard enough on snobbishness. Were
it a disease, it might be excusable as being at times unavoidable; it is
nothing of the sort, it is a deliberate thing that undermines society
more than anything; it is entirely spontaneous, and flourishes in every
community, from the Church to the Jockey Club.

'Aristocracy does not have snobs any more than democracy'; but this
'Thackeray was too restrained and early Victorian to see.' There are at
the present day a great number of people who will not see that
Bolshevism is as snobbish as Suburbia, that the poor man in the Park
Lodge is as much a snob as his master, who only knows the county folks.
Snobbery is not the monopoly of any one set; even also is it, as
Thackeray says,'a mean admiration' that thinks it is better to be a
'made' peer than an honest gardener.

'The true source of snobs in England was the refusal to take one side or
the other in the crisis of the French Revolution.'

The title of 'Vanity Fair' was an inspiration. It gives the ideas of the
disharmonies that can be found in any market place in any English market
town on any English market day. It brings out 'the irrelevancy of
Thackeray.' A good motto for the book is, for Chesterton, that
attributed to Cardinal Newman: 'Evil always fails by overleaping its aim
and good by falling short of it.' Our critic feels that the critics
have been unfair to Thackeray with respect to their denouncement of the
character of Amelia Sedley as being much too soft, whereas Chesterton
thinks she was really a fool, which is the logical outcome of being the
reverse of hard.

But Amelia was soft in a very delightful way. She was 'open to all
emotions as they came'--in fact, she was a fool who was wise because she
has retained her power of happiness, while the hard Rebecca has arrived
at hell, 'the hell of having all outward forces open, but all receptive
organs closed.'

It is necessary again to refer to the charge of cynicism that is
levelled against Thackeray. The mistake is, as our critic points out,
'taking a vague word and applying it precisely.' It all depends upon
what cynicism really means. 'If it means a war on comfort, then
Thackeray was, to his eternal credit, a cynic'; 'if it means a war on
virtue, then Thackeray, to his eternal honour, was the reverse of a
cynic.' His object is to show that silly goodness is better than clever
vice. As I have indicated, the long and the short of the matter is that
Thackeray created a lot of villains, and has therefore been called a
cynic by those who don't even know what the word means, or that there is
a literary blessedness in the making of villains to bring out the more
excellent virtues of the heroes.

              *       *       *       *       *

From these two monumental works that were original in every way and
might almost be called propaganda, Thackeray passed on to a novel which
bore the name of 'Pendennis.' It was 'a novel with nothing else but a
hero, only that the hero is not very heroic,' which makes him all the
more interesting, for it makes him all the more human.

But Pendennis is more than a man--he is a type or symbol. He is 'the old
mystical tragedian of the Middle Ages, Everyman.' It is an epic, because
it celebrates the universal man with all his glorious failings and
glorious virtues. The love of Pendennis for Miss Fotheringay is a
different thing to the ordinary love of man for woman; it is rather the
love that is in every man for every woman. This is what I think
Chesterton means when he says 'it is the veritable Divine disease, which
seems a part of the very health of youth.'

The Everyman of the Middle Ages was a symbol of what man really was.
Chesterton feels that every outside force that came to Everyman had to
be abnormal--for instance, 'Death had to be bony'--so he contends in
'Pendennis' that the shapes that intrude on the life of Arthur Pendennis
have aggressive and allegorical influences.

'Pendennis' is an epic because it celebrates not the strength of man but
his weakness. In the character of Major Pendennis, Chesterton feels that
Thackeray did a great work, because he showed that the life of the
so-called man of the world is not the gay and careless one that fiction
depicts. It is the religious people who can afford to be careless. 'If
you want carelessness you must go to the martyrs.' The reason is fairly
obvious. The worldling has to be careful, as he wants to remain in the
world; the religious man, of whom the martyr was the true prototype, can
afford to be careless; he is not necessarily careless of life, but he
can put things at their proper value. The martyr facing the lions in the
Roman arena knew what life really was; the worldly woman spending her
life trying to be in the company of titled people has no real idea of
the value of it. It is the religious people who know the world; it is
the worldly people who know nothing of it.

With the publication of 'Pendennis' the reputation of Thackeray reached
that position which is sought by all authors, that of being able to
write a book that should not, on publication, be put to the indignity of
being asked who the writer was. Thackeray was now in the delightful
position of being well established, a position that very often results
in careless and poor work. It has been said with some truth that once a
writer is established he can write anything he likes. This is to an
extent true, and such work may even be published and fairly popular, but
he will find sooner or later that his influence is on the wane.

In the 'Newcomes' Thackeray drew a character in Colonel Newcome, to whom
was given the highest of literary honours, that of being spoken of apart
from the book--I mean in the way that people speak of Micawber or
Scrooge, almost unconsciously, without really having the actual work in
which the character appears in mind. Of this book Chesterton says 'the
public has largely forgotten all the Newcomes except one, the Colonel
who has taken his place with Don Quixote, Sir Roger de Coverley, Uncle
Toby, and Mr. Pickwick.'

Chesterton feels that Thackeray at times falls into the trick common to
many writers, that of repeating himself, a trick that is natural, as it
does seem in some ways that the human mind, like history, is apt to move
in circles. The reason was that in some way Thackeray became tired of
Barnes Newcome; the result was that from being a convincing villain he
develops into a stereotyped one, the type who fires pistols into the air
and is the squire's runaway son, so often found at the Lyceum.

If Thackeray 'sprawled' in the Newcomes he atones for this in 'Esmond,'
if any atonement is needed for sprawling, which is probably only that
Thackeray felt that there is nothing so elastic and sprawling as a human
person, whether he be a villain or the reverse.

For Chesterton, 'Esmond' is in the modern sense a work of art, which is
to say that it was a book that could be read anywhere. 'It had no word
that might not have been used at the court of Queen Anne.' It is a
highly romantic tale, but it is a sad story. It is a great Queen Anne
romance; but, 'there broods a peculiar conviction that Queen Anne is
dead.' The whole tale moves round a complicated situation in which a
young man loves a mother and her daughter, and finally marries the
mother. This work is, for Chesterton, Thackeray's 'most difficult task.'
It is difficult for the reason that the situation of the tale is placed
between possibilities of grace and possibilities even of indecency. It
is not hard to write a graceful tale, it is easy to write a loose
story; it is extremely difficult to write a story that may by a stroke
of the pen be either beautiful or merely sordid. But Thackeray
manipulates the keys of the tale so that 'it moves like music,' an
extremely apt metaphor, where harmonies can be made disharmonies by a
single note.

It is a strange fact that a sequel is seldom to be compared to its
forerunner: 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' is of a schoolboy who is an eternal
type; 'Tom Brown at Oxford' is a poor book that does not in the least
understand Oxford. The fact is, I think, that an author cannot be
inspired twice on the same subject--the gods give but sparingly, their
gifts do not fall as the rains.

The sequel to 'Esmond' that Thackeray wrote, 'The Virginians,' is an
'inadequate sequel,' which is not to say that it is a poor book, but
rather that it is an unnecessary one. Yet, as Chesterton says,
'Thackeray never struck a smarter note than when, in "The Virginians,"
he created the terrible little Yankee Countess of Castlewood.' In the
same way as 'The Virginians' was a sequel to 'Esmond,' so 'Philip' was a
sequel (also an inadequate one) to the 'Newcomes.'

It is strange that in two things at least Thackeray's life followed the
same course as Dickens. Both occupied the editorial chair: Dickens that
of the _Daily News_, Thackeray that of the _Cornhill Magazine_. Both
left unfinished works: Dickens that of 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood,'
Thackeray that of 'Denis Duval.'

Thackeray's last work, 'Lovell the Widower,' is 'a very clever sketch,
but as a novel is rather drawn out.' 'The Roundabout Papers' make very
pleasant reading. In one 'he compares himself to a pagan conqueror
driving in his chariot up the Hill of Coru, with a slave behind him to
remind him that he is only mortal.' In 1863, suddenly, Thackeray died,
seven years before Dickens also passed away.

Chesterton has in the space of a short introduction given a very clear
account of the chief characteristics of Thackeray's works; it is no
easy matter to give in a few lines the essence of a great novel, and
Chesterton is not always the most concise of writers. It will now be
convenient to take a few of the characteristics of Thackeray and observe
what he says of them.

At once he is aware of the fact that there is no writer from whom it is
more difficult to make extracts than from Thackeray. The reason is that
Thackeray worked by 'diffuseness of style.' If he wished to be satirical
about a character he was not so directly; rather he worked his way to
the inside of the character, got to know all about it, and then began to
be satirical. This is what Chesterton feels about the matter; it is no
doubt the fairest way of being satirical and the most effective. Many
people and writers are satirical without first of all demonstrating upon
what grounds they have the right to be so. Satire is a wholly laudable
thing if it is directed in a fair minded manner, but if it is only an
excuse for bitter cynicism it is altogether contemptible. Thus he says
of the Thackerean treatment of 'Vanity Fair,' 'he was attacking "Vanity
Fair" from the inside.' It comes to this: if you want to make an extract
from Thackeray you must dive about all over the place to make apparent
irrelevancy become relevancy.

If the use of the grotesque was a strength of Browning (as Chesterton
contends against other critics), so in the case of Thackeray that which
some critics have held to be a weakness--I mean his 'irrelevancy'--is
for our critic a strength. It was a strength, because it was 'a very
delicate and even cunning literary approach.' It is the perfect art of
Thackeray to get the right situation, not by an assumption of it, but by
so approaching it that there is no way out, which is arriving at the
situation by the fairest means possible.

'No other novelist ever carried to such perfection as Thackeray the art
of saying a thing without saying it. Thus he may say that a man drinks
too much, yet it may be false to say that he drinks.' What he did was
not to say that a man had arrived at such and such a state, but rather
that things must change. If, as Chesterton says, Miss Smith finds
marriage the reverse of the honeymoon, Thackeray does not say that the
marriage is a failure, but that joy cannot last for ever; that if there
are roses there are also thorns. It is an admirable method, far better
than saying a thing straight out. It is better to tell a man who is a
cad that there is such a thing as being a gentleman, than to tell him he
is a cad.

In his later life Thackeray was inclined to imitate himself. It is, I
think, that the human brain is prone to move in circles. In the case of
Thackeray, as our critic points out, in later days he used his rambling
style, and, as was to be expected, he rather lost himself. 'He did not
merely get into a parenthesis, he never got out of it,' which is to say
that as Thackeray got older he inherited the tendencies of old age.

I have said earlier in this chapter that the charge against Thackeray of
cynicism was one that was founded on a false premise. The charge that
his irrelevancy was a weakness is based on another false but popular
premise, that the direct method is always the best. It is usually the
worst. It is the worst in warfare, it is the worst in literature, but it
is possibly the best in literary criticism.

Thackeray had another quality that has laid him open to adverse
criticism; that is, his 'perpetual reference to the remote past.' This
repeated reference to the past may be a matter of conceit, or it may be
that the influence of the past is genuinely felt. The reason that, as
Chesterton points out, Thackeray referred so much to the remote past,
was that he wished it to be known that 'there was nothing new under the
sun'; not even, as our critic says, 'the sunstroke.' Chesterton admits
that at times Thackeray carried this tendency to an excess; also
Thackeray wanted to show that the oldest thing in the world was its
youth. Thus in writing of a fashionable drawing-room in Mayfair, if he
referred to some classic, it was to 'remind people how many _débutantes_
had come out since the age of Horace.' It was quite a different thing
to the pompous bishop quoting Greek at the squire's house to show that
his doctor's degree, though an honorary one, had some classical learning
behind it, or the small boy translating Horace to avoid the headmaster's
cane. In the case of the bishop and the schoolboy, the use of the
classics is, on the one hand, pomposity; on the other, discretion. In
the case of Thackeray it was a reverence for the past, that it was a
very large part of the present.

There are, then, roughly three main characteristics of Thackeray: his
irrelevancy, his rambling style, and his frequent reference to the past.
All these, Chesterton makes it clear, are matters in which the strength
of Thackeray lies. Not that they are free always from exaggerations.
Sometimes Thackeray became lost in his irrelevancy, sometimes he became
almost unintelligible in his rambling style, now and then his use of
ancient quotation became irritating. 'Above all things, Thackeray was
receptive. The world imposed on Thackeray, and Dickens imposed on the
world.' But it could not be put more truly than that Thackeray
represents, in that gigantic parody called genius, the spirit of the
Englishman in repose. 'This spirit is the idle embodiment of all of us;
by his weakness we shall fail, and by his enormous sanities we shall
endure.' This is the crux of the matter which Chesterton brings out,
that the weaknesses of Thackeray are his strength. He loved liberty, not
because it meant restraint from law, but because he 'was a novelist'; he
was open to all the influences round him, not because he had no
standpoint, but because he could see merit in selection; he had an open
mind, but knew when to shut it.

              *       *       *       *       *

The passages selected from the various works have been chosen with care.
It was evidently by no means an easy task. The passage chosen to show
Colonel Newcome in the 'Cave of Harmony' gives in one poignant incident
his character; the selection from 'Pendennis' does much the same. In the
passage from 'Esmond' the story of the duel is a fine selection; the
chapter on 'Some Country Snobs' is an apt choosing; the celebrated
'Essay on George IV' demonstrates Thackeray in a very different mood.
The 'Fall of Becky Sharp,' taken from 'Vanity Fair,' has not been
included without forethought.

Of Thackeray's poems, Chesterton has included the most significant, and
not without due 'The Cane-Bottomed Chair' finds a prominent place.

Enough has been said to show that Chesterton is not a critic of
Thackeray who has no discrimination in choosing from his works. He knows
what Thackeray was, wherein lay his strength and weakness. He has added
a worthy companion to his fuller works on Browning and Dickens.

_Chapter Four_


It will be convenient for our purpose to adhere as closely as possible
to the order of Chesterton's book. It is a hard task to do justice to
Browning even in a long book; the task is not simplified when, in a
chapter, it is hoped to give a criticism of an intricate criticism of

There are two ways to approach such a task: The first is to take the
book as a whole and write a review of it, which is a method liable to a
superficiality; the second is to take such a work chapter by chapter,
and to piece the various criticisms into an ordered whole. This I have
attempted to do. I make no attempt to criticize the method of
Chesterton's approach to Browning, or his combination of the effect of
his life on his work; rather I wish to take what the critic says and
comment on his remarks.

There is undoubtedly a fundamental difference between Browning and
Dickens which is at once clear to any critic of these two writers.
Dickens was, as I have said in an earlier chapter, born at the
psychological moment. Browning happened to be born early in the
nineteenth century. I cannot see that it would have mattered had he been
born at the beginning of the twentieth. His early life, unlike Dickens,
was normal, but it did not affect Browning adversely. Had Dickens' life
been uneventful, I think it not improbable that his literary output
would have been commonplace instead of, as nearly as possible, divine.

There is no particular account of Browning's family, which was probably
a typical middle-class family, which is to say that they were, like many
thousands of their kind, lovers of the normal--a very good reason why
later Browning should have acquired a love for the grotesque, which many
people quite wrongly define as the abnormal.

The grotesque is a queer psychological state of mind; the abnormal is an
extreme kind of individualism that is probably insane, provided the
opposite is sane.

What is important, as Chesterton feels, is that we shall get some
account of Browning's home. It is in the home that we can usually detect
the embryo of future activity. The germ, although sometimes hidden, is
nevertheless there, which is exactly why the commonplace home life of a
genius, before the public has discovered the fact, is interesting.

To quote our critic: 'Browning was a thoroughly typical Englishman of
the middle class,' and he remained so through his life.

But this middle-class Englishman walking through the streets of
Camberwell, as the boys played in the gutters, was Browning, not then
the master poet of the Victorian Era, but the young man who could 'pass
a bookstall and find no thrill in beholding on a placard the name of

Browning found his early life in an age 'of inspired office boys,' an
age that emerged from the shadow of the French Revolution, that extreme
method of optimism which Chesterton believes no Englishman can
understand, not even Carlyle himself. It was an optimism that was so,
because it held that man was worthy of liberty, which is to say that no
man is by his nature ever meant to be a slave.

While Browning was living his daily life in Camberwell, Dickens was
existing in the blacking factory; yet again it was an age of the
beginning of intellectual giants.

The Chestertonian standpoint with regard to the early days of Browning
is interesting. It is a ready acknowledgment of the poetic instinct that
was being slowly but surely nurtured in the heart of the unknown young
man of Camberwell.

It is in this early period of his life that Browning attempts what
Chesterton rightly describes as the most difficult of literary
propositions, that of writing a good political play. This Browning
essayed to do, and wrote 'Strafford,' a play that dealt with that most
controversial part of history, the time when kings could be executed in
Whitehall under the shadow of their own Parliament.

For our critic, Strafford was one of the greatest men ever born with the
sacred name of England on his brow. The play was not a gigantic success,
it was not a failure; it was, as was to be expected, popular with a
limited public, which is very often one of the surest criterions of
merit in a book or play. The success of the play was sufficient to
assure the public that Browning had brains and, what was more unusual,
could put them to a good advantage.

Browning became then 'a detached and eccentric personality who had
arisen on the outskirts; the world began to be conscious of him at this

In 1840 our critic tells us 'Sordello' was published. It was a poem that
caused people to wonder whether it was really deep, or merely pure
nonsense, a distinction some people cannot ever discover in regard to

Of this poem, its unique reception by the literary world lies in the
fact 'that it was fashionable to boast of not understanding,' which, as
I have said, was an indication that it might be termed extremely clever
or extremely stupid. It was not a poem, as has been held by some
critics, that was a piece of intellectual vanity. Browning was far too
great a man to stoop down to such mere banal conceit. The poem was a
very different thing. It was a creature created by the obscurity of
Browning's mind, which, as Chesterton thinks, was the natural reaction
for a genius, born in a villa street in South London.

What is the explanation of this poem? What is its meaning? Wherein lies
its soul? These are questions every lover of Browning has constantly to
ask. Our critic supplies an answer, an answer that is original, and is,
I think, true--the poem is an epic on 'the horror of great darkness,'
that darkness that strangely enough seems to attack the young more
frequently than the old.

That which is levelled against Browning, his obscurity, is a very
bulwark protecting a subtle and clear mind. This is specially so with a
poet who probably of all men so lives in his own poetic world that he
forgets his ideas, though clear to himself, are vague to the world
occupied with conventionalities.

The real difficulty of 'Sordello' lies in the fact that it is written
about an obscure piece of Italian history of which Browning happened to
have knowledge--the struggles of mediæval Italy. This obscurity is not
studied, as in the case of academic distinction; it is natural. The
obscurity of many of the passages of St. John's Gospel is natural
because the mind of St. John dwelt on the 'depths,' as did Browning's
dwell on the grotesque. The result is the same. Each needs an
interpreter, each has an abundance of the richest philosophy, each has
an imprint of the Finger of God.

With all the controversy it has caused, 'Sordello' has had no great
influence on Browningites; its name has passed into almost contempt.
Chesterton has done much to give the true meaning of this strange work.
With his next poem Browning spoke with a voice that, as our critic says,
proved that he had found that he was not Robinson Crusoe, which is to
say that he had found that the world contained a great number of people.
Despite the 1,500 millions amongst whom we 'live and move and have our
being' we are apt to think that we alone are important, which is not
conceit but a mere proposition demonstrating that man is a universe in
himself while being but an infinitesimal part of the universe.

'Pippa Passes' is a poem which expresses a love of humanity; it is an
epic of unconscious influence which, no doubt, Browning felt was the key
to all that is best and noble in human activity. 'The whole idea of the
poem lies in the fact that "Pippa Passes" is utterly remote from the
grand folk whose lives she troubles and transforms.'

Browning's poetry in the poetical sense was now nearing its zenith. The
'Dramatic Lyrics' were published in 1842, possibly about the time that
Dickens was returning from his triumphant American tour. These showed,
Chesterton thinks, the two qualities most often denied to Browning,
passion and beauty. They are the contradiction to critics, other than
ours, who regard Browning as wholly a philosophic poet, which is to say
a poet who wrote poetry not for its own sake but for purely utilitarian
purpose; not that poetry of the emotions is not useful--it is on a
different plane.

The poems were those that 'represent the arrival of the real Browning of
literary history'; for in these he discovered what was, for Chesterton,
Browning's finest achievement, his dramatic lyrical poems.

Critics have said that Browning's poetry lacks passion and the most
poignant emotion of human nature, love. Chesterton, on the other hand,
considers that Browning was the finest love poet of the world. It is
real love poetry, because it talks about real people, not ideals; it
does not muse of the Prince Charming meeting the Fairy Princess, and
forget the devoted wife meeting her husband on the villa doorstep with
open arms and a nice dinner in the parlour. Sentiment must be based on
reality if it is to have worth. This is the strong point, for our
critic, of Browning's love poetry.

The next work of importance that came from Browning's pen was the
'Return of the Druses,' which shows Browning's interest in the strange
religions of the East, that queer phantastic part of the world that gave
birth to a Western religion which has transformed the West, leaving the
East to gaze afar off. This poem is, for Chesterton, a psychological
one. It is an attempt to give an account of a human being; perhaps the
most difficult task in the world, because it can never hope to solve all
sides of the question. The central character of this splendid poem is
one 'Djubal,' a queer mixture of the virtues of the Deity with the vices
of Humanity. He is for Browning the first of a series of characters on
which he displays his wonderful powers of apologizing for apparently
bad men.

He attempted, to quote our critic, 'to seek out the sinners whom even
sinners cast out,' which Christ always did, and which His Church does
not always do.

Again Browning turned his hand to writing plays, but he was always a
'neglected dramatist' in the sense that he had to push his plays; his
plays did not push him.

His next play, 'A Blot on the "Scutcheon,"' is chiefly interesting, as
it was the occasion of a quarrel between its author and that most
eccentric of theatrical personalities, Macready. The quarrel was, our
critic points out, a matter of money. But Browning failed to see this;
he was a man of the world in his poems, but not in his life.

It is interesting here to see what our critic says of Browning about
this period before we consider the question of his marriage. 'There were
people who called Browning a snob. He was fond of wealth and fond of
society; he admired them as the child who comes in from the desert. He
bore the same relation to the snob that the righteous man bears to the
Pharisee--something frightfully close and similar and yet an everlasting

It has been left for Chesterton to give the truest definition of a
Pharisee that has yet been penned, because it is exactly what every man
feels but has never expressed in so brilliant a paradox.

              *       *       *       *       *

That Browning had faults Chesterton would be the last to deny. Faults
are as much a part of a great man as virtues. The more pronounced the
fault, the more exquisite is the virtue, especially in a man of the
character of Browning, a character that had a certain 'uncontrollable
brutality of speech,' together with a profound and unaffected respect
for other people.

Chesterton's chapter on Browning and his marriage is one of the most
homely chapters of the book; it gives the lie to those critics who have
glibly said that he has no way in which to reach our hearts or cause a
lump in our throats.

The very method of describing how a great man wooed a great woman, how
the two loved, married, and disagreed upon certain matters, is one that
has an essential appeal to the heart. The exquisite description of the
effect of the death of his wife on Browning is pathetic by its very

It is enough to say that Browning's marriage was a successful one, which
is not to say that it was entirely free from certain disagreements. The
domestic relations of great writers and poets have not always been of
the rosiest. Swift did not make an ideal marriage--at least, not on
conventional lines. Milton had a wife who utterly misunderstood that her
husband was a genius. Dickens was not blessed with matrimonial bliss.
Shelley found faith in one woman hard.

But Browning and his wife had no disagreements on their life interests.
They were both poets, though of a different calibre. What they really
did not see eye to eye upon was something which the human race is still
much divided about. This great point of difference was with regard to
spiritualism. Browning did not dislike spiritualism; he disliked
spiritualists. The difference is tremendous. Unfortunately many of the
interpreters of spiritualism have degraded it into a kind of blatant
necromancy which is in no way dignified or useful. It is entirely
opposed to proper psychic research.

Miss Barrett had been an invalid. Therefore Browning feared that
spiritualism might have a really bad effect on his wife. 'He was
sensible to put a stop to it.'

The theory, on the other hand, held by other critics of Browning than
Chesterton was that his dislike of spiritualism was fostered by a direct
disbelief in immortality, which is as absurd a statement as is possible
to make. Spiritualism and Immortality have no necessary connection
whatever, though to a certain extent Spiritualism is presumed on the
belief in a future life.

But this, as Chesterton points out, was not the reason for Browning's
position; it was entirely that Browning thought 'if he had not
interposed when she was becoming hysterical she might have ended in a
lunatic asylum.'

As Browning spent so much of his life in Italy it will be well to see
what our critic considers he thought of that country under the blue
skies jutting on to the blue seas of the Mediterranean.

'Italy,' says Chesterton, 'to Browning and his wife, was not by any
means merely that sculptured and ornate sepulchre that it is to so many
of those cultured Englishmen who live in Italy and despise it. To them
it was a living nation, the type and centre of the religion and politics
of a continent, the ancient and flaming heart of Western history, the
very Europe of Europe.'

Browning's life in Italy was more or less uneventful. It consisted of a
conventional method--the meeting of famous Englishmen visiting Italy,
the writing of numerous poems, the pleasant domestic life of a literary
genius and his wife.

There was only one thing that could break it, and it came in 1861. Mrs.
Browning died. 'Alone in the room with Browning. He, closing the door of
that room behind him, closed a door in himself, and none ever saw
Browning upon earth again but only a splendid surface.'

              *       *       *       *       *

During his wife's life Browning had planned his great work, that of the
'Ring and the Book.' In the meantime came the death of his wife, and
Browning moved on the earth alone. Of this period of his life, shortly
after the death of Mrs. Browning, Chesterton gives us a clear picture.
'Browning liked social life, he liked the excitement of the dinner, the
exchange of opinions, the pleasant hospitality that is so much a part of
our life. He was a good talker because he had something to say.'

One of his chief faults, according to our critic, was prejudice.
Prejudice is probably an unconscious obeying of instinct; it may even
be a warning. Yet it can be and often is entirely unreasonable.

Browning's prejudice was, Chesterton thinks, the type that hated a thing
it knew nothing about, a state of mind that is comparatively harmless.
What is dangerous is disliking a thing when we know what it is. The
prejudice of Browning was synonymous with his profound contempt for
certain things of which he can only speak 'in pothouse words.'

About this period Browning produced 'Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangu, Saviour
of Society.' This is 'one of the most picturesque of Browning's
apologetic monologues.' It is Browning's courageous attempt to allow
Napoleon III to speak for himself. Yet again Browning 'took in those
sinners whom even sinners cast out.'

Two years later, we are told, Browning produced one of his most
characteristic works, 'Night-cap Country.' It is an elegant poem of the
sicklier side of the French Revolution and the more sensual side of the
French temperament.

This is the period in Browning's life when he produced his most
characteristic work. It was that time when he was nearly middle aged,
when the lamp of youth was just flickering, and when the lamp of old age
was about to be lighted.

Chesterton treats the whole of this period with a calm
straightforwardness that we are not accustomed to in his writings. There
is no doubt, I think, of all our critic's books, that his work on
Browning is the least Chestertonian, which is not in any way to
disparage it, but rather to state that the book might have been written
by any biographer who knew Browning's works and had the sense to see
that his characteristics were such that many of his critics were unfair
to him. Chesterton will never allow for an instant that Browning
suffered from anything but an evident 'naturalness,' which expressed
itself in a rugged style, concealing charity in an original
grotesqueness of manner.

It is now convenient to turn to Browning's greatest work, 'The Ring and
the Book,' and see what Chesterton has to say about it.

Rumour is really distorted truth, or rather very often originates from a
different standpoint being taken of the same thing. Thus a man may say
that another man is a good fellow but borrows money too often; another
may say of the same man he is a good fellow but talks too much; a third
that he is a good fellow but would be better without a moustache. The
essential man is the same, but his three critics make really a different
person, or, at least, each sees him from a different angle.

As Chesterton so finely points out, the conception of 'The Ring and the
Book' is the studying of a single matter from nine different
standpoints. In successive monologues Browning is endeavouring to depict
the various strange ways a fact gets itself presented to the world.

Further, the work indicates the extraordinary lack of logic used by
those who would be ashamed to be denied the name of dialectician.
Probably, thinks Chesterton, very many people do harm in their cause,
not by want of propaganda, but by the fallaciousness of their arguments
for it.

There have been critics who have denied to this work the right of
immortality. Chesterton is not one of these; rather he contends such a
criticism is a gross misunderstanding of the work. For our critic the
greatness of this poem is the very point upon which it is attacked, that
of environment. For once and all Browning has demonstrated that there
are riches and depths in small things that are often denied to what we
think is greater.

'It is an epic round a sordid police court case.' 'The essence of "The
Ring and the Book" is that it is the great epic of the nineteenth
century, because it is the great epic of the importance of small
things.' Browning says, 'I will show you the relation of man to heaven
by telling you a story out of a dirty Italian book of criminal trials,
from which I select one of the meanest and most completely forgotten.'

It is then that Chesterton sees that this poem is more than a mere poem;
it is a natural acknowledgment of the monarchy of small things, the same
idea that made Dickens believe that common men could be kings--that is,
in the same category as the Divine care of the hairs of the head. It
gives the lie to the rather popular fallacy that events are important by
their size. It is once more a position that the stone on the hillside is
as mighty as the mountain of which it is only a small part.

Again, 'The Ring and the Book' is an embodiment of the spiritual in the
material, the good that can be contained in a sordid story; it is the
typical epic of our age, 'because it expresses the richness of life by
taking as a text a poor story. It pays to existence the highest of all
possible compliments, the great compliment of selecting from it almost
at random.'

There is a second respect, he feels, which makes this poem the epic of
the age. It is that every man has a point of view. And, what is more,
every man probably has a different point of view at least in something.

'The Ring and the Book,' to sum up briefly why Chesterton thinks so
highly of it, is an epic; it is a national expression of a
characteristic love of small things, the germination of great truths; it
pays a compliment to humanity by asserting the value of every opinion,
it demonstrates that even in so sordid a thing as a police court there
is a spiritual spark; in a word, it is an attempt to see God, not on the
hill-tops or in the valleys, but in the back streets teeming with common

It is now time to turn to two qualities of Browning that are full of the
deepest interest, and which are dealt with by Chesterton with the
greatest skill and judgment. These two qualities may be described as
Browning as a literary artist and Browning as a philosopher. For our
purpose it will be useful to take Browning as a literary artist first
and see what was his position. Philosophy is usually in the nature of a
summing up. The philosophy of a poet is best looked at when the poet has
been studied; therefore it is best to follow Chesterton's order and
take Browning's philosophical position at the end of this chapter.

He feels that in some ways the critics want Browning to be poet and
logician, and are rather cross when he is either. They want him to be a
poet and are annoyed that he is a logician; they want him to be a
logician and are annoyed that he is a poet. The fact of the matter is he
was probably a poet!

Chesterton is convinced that Browning was a literary artist--that is to
say, he was a symbolist. The wealth of Browning's poetry depends on
arrangement of language. It is so with all great literature: it is not
so much what is said as how it is said, in what way the sentences are
formed so that the climax comes in the right place.

For all practical purposes Browning was, our critic thinks, a deliberate
artist. The suggestion that Browning cared nothing for form is for
Chesterton a monstrous assertion. It is as absurd as saying that
Napoleon cared nothing for feminine love or that Nero hated mushrooms.
What Browning did was always to fall into a different kind of form,
which is a totally different thing to saying he disregarded it.

There is rather an assumption among a certain class of critics that the
artistic form is a quality that is finite. As a matter of fact, it is
infinite; it cannot be bound up with any particular mode of expression;
it is elastic, and so elastic that certain critics cannot adjust their
minds to such lucidity.

There is, our critic feels, another suggestion--that if Browning had a
form, it was a bad one. This really does not matter very much. Whether
form in an artistic sense is good or bad can only be determined by
setting up a criterion; this is not possible in the case of Browning,
because, though he has many forms, they are original ones, which render
them impervious to values of good and bad.

Chesterton is naturally aware that Browning wrote a great deal of bad
poetry--every poet does. The way to take with Browning's bad poetry is
not to condemn him for it, but to say quite frankly this poem or that
poem was a failure. It is by his masterpieces that Browning must be

Perhaps, as he points out, the peculiar characteristic of Browning's art
lay in his use of the grotesque, which, as I said at the beginning of
this chapter, is a totally different thing from the abnormal.

In other words, Browning was rugged. It was as natural for him to be
rugged as for Ruskin to be polished, for Swift to be cynical (in an
optimistic sense), for Chesterton to be paradoxical. Ruggedness is a
form of beauty, but it is a beauty that is quite different from the
commonly accepted grounds. A mountain is rugged and it is beautiful, a
woman is beautiful; but the two features of the aesthetic are quite
different. It is the same with poetry. There is (and Browning proved it)
a 'beautifulness' in the rugged; it is a sense of being 'beautifully'

Enough has been said to make it quite clear that Browning was a literary
artist; but, as Chesterton contends, an original one. He did not confine
himself to any one form: his beauty lay in the placing of the 'rugged'
before his readers, the method he used of employing the grotesque.

              *       *       *       *       *

It is now an excellent time in which to look at Browning's philosophy
and Chesterton's interpretation of it.

As it is perfectly true to say that every man has a point of view, a
position so admirably brought out by Browning in his 'Ring and the
Book,' so it is also, I think, a truism that every man has (not always
consciously) a philosophy. A philosophy is, after all, a point of view;
it is not necessarily an abstract academic position; nor is it always a
well-defined attempt to discover the ultimate purpose of things. It can
be, and very often is, a point of view really acquired by experience.

Naturally a man of the intellect of Browning would have a philosophy,
and he had, as our critic points out, a very definite one.

In his quaint way Chesterton tells us 'Browning had opinions as he had
a dress suit or a vote for Parliament.' And he had no hesitation in
expressing these opinions. There was no reason why he should; at least
part of his philosophy, as I have indicated, lay in his knowledge of the
value of men's opinions--yet again brought out in 'The Ring and the

He had, so we are told, two great theories of the universe: the first,
the hope that lies in man, imperfect as he is; the second, a bold
position that has offended many people but is nevertheless at least a
reasonable one, that God is in some way imperfect; that is, in some
obscure way He could be made jealous.

This is, no doubt, a highly unorthodox position. Yet it is a position
that thousands have felt does make it plainer (as it did to
Browning)--the necessity of the Crucifixion; it was a pandering to
Divine jealousy.

These are, as Chesterton admits, great thoughts, and, as such, are
liable to be disliked by those Christians and others who will not think
and dislike any one else doing so.

This strange theological position of Browning is, I think, indicated in

Chesterton usually does not agree with the other critics about most
things, but he does at least agree in regard to the fact that Browning
was an optimist. His theory of the use of men, though imperfect, is as
good an argument for optimism as could well be found. Browning's
optimism was, as our critic says, founded on experience, it was not a
mere theory that had nothing practical behind it.

As I have said, Browning disliked Spiritualists; but that is not, our
critic thinks, the reason he wrote 'Sludge the Medium.' What this poem
showed was that Spiritualism could be of use in spite of insincere
mediums. It was in no way an attack on the tenets of Spiritualism.

The understanding of this poem gives the key to other poems of
Browning's, as 'Bishop Blougram's Apology,' and some of the monologues
in 'The Ring and the Book'; which is, that 'a man cannot help telling
some truth, even when he sets out to tell lies.'

This may be the right interpretation of these poems, but I think
Browning really meant that there is an end somewhere to lying; in other
words, lying is negative and temporary; truth is positive and eternal.

The summing up of Browning's knaves cannot be better expressed than by
Chesterton. 'They are real somewhere. We are talking to a garrulous and
peevish sneak; we are watching the play of his paltry features, his
evasive eyes and babbling lips. And suddenly the face begins to change
and harden, the eyes glare like the eyes of a mask, the whole face of
clay becomes a common mouthpiece, and the voice that comes forth is the
voice of God uttering his everlasting soliloquy.'

It is the essence of Browning; it is the certainty that however far
distant there is the face of God behind the human features.

              *       *       *       *       *

If there is one characteristic about this study of Browning it lies in
the fact that it is a very clear exposition of a remarkable poet. A man
might take up the book knowing Browning only as a name; he might well
lay it down knowing what Browning was, what he achieved, what his
essence was. The book is a masterly study--it lays claim to our
sympathies; and never more so than when our critic describes that moment
when Browning, alone in the room, saw his wife die.

_Chapter Five_


The reason that Chesterton has written a history of England is that he
says no member of the public has ever done so before. This is a thing to
be supremely thankful for if true; but it is entirely untrue, for the
very obvious fact that history has never been written by any one who is
not a member of the public. Every historian is a member of the public.
Let him imagine he is not, let him carry this imagination out to a
logical conclusion, and he will have a good chance of landing in a
prison for failing to pay the king's taxes.

The very best people to write histories are historians, but they will
never deal with history in a popular way. This Chesterton laments. He
wants a history that shall be about the things that never ordinarily get
into history. If he is told about the charters of the barons, he wishes
to hear of the charters of the carpenters. This, he thinks, would make
history popular, that word which is always used to denote something
rather slight and superficial. He exclaims that the people are ignored,
whereas the historian really would not be one at all if he was guilty of
this charge.

The fact of the matter is, that the whole of the history of England has
been so misunderstood that Chesterton has come to the rescue and has
told us what really happened--in fact, all we learnt at school was waste
of time; poor Green really wrote an anti-history of this country. The
Romans are not of the remote past; the whole of present-day England is
the remains of Rome, which is merely to say that our civilization comes
down from Rome, a statement that quite able historians have hinted at
now and again. No one for an instant is so foolish as to think that the
chief remains of the Romans consist of the few broken-up baths and
villas up and down the country, when a splendid high road stares them in
the face.

              *       *       *       *       *

Chesterton pays enormous attention to the Middle Ages. They have, he
thinks, been rather badly dealt with by historians. Too much attention
is, he contends, paid to the time of the Stuarts onwards. Chesterton
asks us to contemplate history as we should if we had never learnt it at
school. It is, of course, true that we do not learn the essentials of
our country in our schooldays. It is of no real importance that William
conquered Harold in 1066, but it is of vast importance to know how he
behaved as a conqueror, a fact seldom taught. But if we forgot all the
history we ever knew, we should not be able to appreciate Chesterton's
history, which aims to reconstruct all that we had believed while
pouring over Green in the fifth form.

Chesterton covers so much ground in this book, his treatment is so
intricate, his method so full of various peculiar contentions, that the
only possible method in a chapter is to take some of the more important
points he touches upon and try and discover what he feels about them. It
will be well to realize at once that however he may differ from
recognized historians, his history loses all its meaning unless the
standard historians are known fairly well.

              *       *       *       *       *

There are probably two tremendous turning points in history--the one
occurred at the moment that the fatal arrow entered the eye of Harold at
Senlac, the other when Henry VIII set fire to the ecclesiastical faggots
that ended in the Reformation. That period which lay between them may
roughly be called the Middle Ages, which part of history Chesterton
thinks has been badly treated. Whether this is so is a question that
opens up a broader one: Has the history of England ever received the
attention it deserves? Has right proportion been given to the most
important events? Should history be made popular in the modern sense of
this much misinterpreted word? These are questions to which no adequate
answer can be given in the space of a chapter, nor is it within the
scope of this book.

Chesterton is very annoyed to find that to possess Norman blood is, to
many people, a hall mark of aristocracy: 'This fashionable fancy misses
what is best in the Normans.' What he contends, and I think rightly, is
that William was a conqueror until he had conquered. Then England passed
out of his hands. He had wished it to be an autocracy; instead, it
developed into a monarchy--'William the Conqueror became William the
Conquered.' This is a line that the ordinary historians do not appear to
take, though I fancy they imply it when they say that feudalism didn't
exist in the time of the Georges.

Perhaps one of the most picturesque parts of history is that time when
men looked across the sea and saw in the far distance a huge cross that
seemed to beckon as the voices later called to Joan of Arc. The Crusades
were a time when wars were holy because they were waged for a holy
thing. Six hundred years, so Chesterton tells us, had elapsed since
Christianity had arisen and covered the world like a dust-storm, when
there arose 'a copy and a contrary: the creed of the Moslems'; in a
sense Islam was 'like a Christian heresy.' Historians, so he thinks,
have not understood the Crusades. They have taken them to be
aristocratic expeditions with a Cross as the prey instead of a deer,
whereas really they were 'unanimous risings.' 'The Holy Land was much
nearer to a plain man's house than Westminster, and immeasurably nearer
than Runnymede.' But I am not sure that Chesterton has scored over the
orthodox historians who made a good deal out of the fact that Crusade
had a close affinity to _Crux_, which word meant a cross that was not
necessarily bound up with Calvary.

In dealing with the Middle Ages, he propounds the proposition that the
best way to understand history is to read it backwards--that is, if we
are to understand the Magna Charta we must be on speaking terms with
Mary. 'If we really want to know what was strongest in the twelfth
century, it is no bad way to ask what remained of it in the fourteenth.'
This is a very excellent method, as it demonstrates what were the
historical events and what were the mere local and temporary.

Becket was one of those queer people of history who was half a priest
and half a statesman, and he had to deal with a king who was half a king
and half a tyrant. Every schoolboy knows about Becket, and delights to
read of the wild ride to Canterbury, which began with the spilling of
Becket's brains and ended with the spilling of the King's blood by his

For Chesterton, Becket 'may have been too idealistic: he wished to
protect the Church as a sort of earthly paradise, of which the rules
might seem to him as paternal as those of heaven, but might well seem to
the king as capricious as those of Fairyland.' The tremendously
suggestive thing of the whole story of Becket is that Henry II submitted
to being thrashed at Becket's tomb. It was like 'Cecil Rhodes submitting
to be horsewhipped by a Boer as an apology for some indefensible death
incidental to the Jameson Raid.' Undoubtedly Chesterton has got at the
kernel of the story that made an Archbishop a saint (a rare occurrence)
and an English king a sportsman (a rarer occurrence).

But clever as Chesterton is in regard to this particular story, the
ordinary schoolboy would do better to stick to the common tale of Becket
that came on the hasty words spoken by a hasty king; he will better
understand the significance of the whipping of the king when he can read
history back to the days when kings could not only not be whipped, but
could whip whom they chose, and put men's eyes out when they used them
to shoot at the king's deer.

A great part of the Middle Ages is concerned with the French wars, those
wars that staggered the English exchequer and made the English kings
leaders of armies. The reason of these wars was, Chesterton tells us,
the fact that Christianity was a very local thing. It was more--it was a
national thing that was bound up with England. 'Men began to feel that
foreigners did not eat or drink like Christians,' which is to say that
the Englishman began his contempt for the foreigner which has resulted
in nearly all our wars, and has made the Englishman abroad a
supercilious creature, and has made the English schoolboy put his tongue
out at the French master.

The French wars were something more than a national hatred, they were a
national dislike of foreigners, a dislike that had its probable origin
in the Tower of Babel. But this was not the only reason of the incessant
French wars--there was a question of policy. France began to be a
nation, and 'a true patriotic applause hailed the later victory of
Agincourt.' France had become something more than a nation; it had
become a religion, because it had as its figure a simple girl who
believed in voices, and took her part in the struggles of a defeated

Chesterton's chapter is a fine understanding of the French wars; it is
an amplification of the mere skeletons of ordinary history, and as such
is very valuable.

From being a reasonable national dislike, the French wars 'gradually
grew to be almost as much a scourge to England as they were to France.'
'England was despoiled by her own victories; luxury and poverty
increased at the extremes of society, and the balance of the better
mediævalism was lost.' It resulted in the revolt connected with Wat
Tyler, a revolt that 'was not only dramatic but was domestic'; it ended
in the death of Tyler and the intervention of the boy king, who, in
swaying the multitude that was a dangerous mob, 'gives us a fleeting and
final glimpse of the crowned sacramental man of the Middle Ages.'

From this period Chesterton tells us that a rather strange thing
happened--men began to fight for the crown. The Wars of the Roses was
the result. The English rose was then the symbol of party, as ever since
it has been the symbol of an English summer.

Chesterton makes no attempt to follow the difficult path that the Wars
of the Roses travel, from the military standpoint, nor the adventures
that followed the king-maker Warwick and the warlike widow of Henry V,
one Margaret. There was, so he says, a moral difference in this conflict
that took the name of a Rose to fight for a Crown. 'Lancaster stood, as
a whole, for the new notion of a king propped by parliaments and
powerful bishops; and York, on the whole, for the remains of the older
idea of a king who permits nothing to come between him and his people.
This is everything of permanent political interest that could be traced
by counting all the bows of Barnet or all the lances of Tewkesbury.'

The time when the Middle Ages was drawing near to the Tudors is
interesting, because of the riddle of Richard III. Chesterton's
description of this strange king is full of fascination if also it is
full of truth: 'He was not an ogre shedding rivers of blood, yet a
crimson cloud cannot be dispelled from his memory. Whether or not he was
a good man, he was apparently a good king, and even a popular one. He
anticipated the Renaissance in an abnormal enthusiasm for art and music,
and he seems to have held to the old paths of religion and charity.'

He was indeed, as Chesterton says, the last of the mediæval kings, and
he died hard; his blood flowed over an England that did not know what
loyalty was, a country that had nobles who would fly from their king on
the first sign of danger; the Last Post of the old kings was sounding,
and Richard answered its challenge. His description of this remarkable
king is perhaps the best thing in the book, and is certainly far better
than the ordinary history that attempts to give the character of a king
in a couple of lines.

With the end of the mediæval kings we pass to a period that is none
other than the Renaissance, one of the most important epochs in English
history, 'that great dawn of a more rational daylight which for so many
made mediævalism seem a mere darkness.'

The character of Henry VIII is one that is a veritable battleground. He
is attacked because he found a variety of wives pleasing; he is condoned
as a young man who promised to be a great king. There are, as Chesterton
points out, two great things that intruded into his reign: the one was
the difficulty of his marriages, the other was the question of the
monasteries. If Henry was a Bluebeard, he was such because his wives
were not a fortunate selection. 'He was almost as unlucky in his wives
as they were in their husband.' But the one thing that Chesterton feels
broke Henry's honour was the question of his divorce. In doing this he
mistook the friendship of the Pope for something that would make him go
against the position of the Church. 'Henry sought to lean upon the
cushions of Leo and found he had struck his arm upon the rock of Peter.
The result was that Henry finished with the Papacy in the pious hope
that it had done with him; Henry became head of the Church that was
national, and soon Wolsey fell, to die in a monastery at Leicester.

But this terrible king 'struck down the noblest of the Humanists, Thomas
More, who died the death of a saint, gloriously jesting.' The question
of the monasteries is one that is solved by the simple statement that
the King wanted money and the monasteries supplied it. Is there any
justification for the crimes of Henry? For Chesterton 'it is unpractical
to discuss whether Froude finds any justification for Henry's crimes in
the desire to create a strong national monarchy. For whether or not it
was desired, it was not created.'

Chesterton in an original way has given a very clear account of the
difficulties of the reign of Henry VIII, a reign that had perhaps more
influence on English history than any other, a reign that showed what
the licence of an English monarchy could do and, what is of more
importance, what it could not, a reign that showed that the fall of a
great man could be so precipitate that the significance of it could not
be felt at the time, a reign that showed that the Pope was something
more than the friend of the English throne--he was in matters of Church
discipline its checkmate. This was the time that England trembled at the
devilry of a king and rejoiced at the sun of a new learning that was
slowly dispelling the fog of the Dark Ages.

              *       *       *       *       *

It is usually assumed that Mary was a bad woman because she burned
people who were so unwise as not to be at least officially Catholics.
Historians have applied the word 'bloody' to her, whereas the better
word would be fanatic. 'Her enemies were wrong about her character,'
says Chesterton. 'She was in a limited sense a good woman.' If
Chesterton means she was a good Catholic he is right, if the burning of
heretics is a good thing for a Christian Church. But the fortunate part
of the whole affair was that not even burning could restore the power of
the Papacy in England in Mary's time any more than the arrogance of the
Roman Catholics to-day can restore the Pope to London and unfrock the
Archbishop of Canterbury. Mary was a sincere fanatic, and like most
fanatics was an extremely ignorant woman; consequently she could not see
that the fire that burnt Cranmer also burnt the last hope of England
bowing to the Pope of Rome. I cannot feel that Chesterton has in the
least vindicated the character of Mary.

Historians are apt to think that the days of Queen Elizabeth were those
in which England first realized that she was great. On the other hand,
Chesterton is convinced that it is in this period that 'she first
realized that she was small.' The business of the Armada was to her what
Bannockburn was to the Scots, or Majuba to the Boers--a victory that
astonished the victors. The fact of the matter was that Spain realized
after the battle that the victory does not always go to the big
battalions, which the present Kaiser is no doubt writing in his
'Imperial' copybook to-day.

The 'magnificance of the Elizabethan times has traces in mediæval times
and far fewer traces in modern times.' 'Her critics indeed might
reasonably say that in replacing the Virgin Mary by the Virgin Queen,
the English reformers merely exchanged a true virgin for a false one.'
If Elizabeth was crafty it was because it was good she should be so. If
she had not been so, the history of England might have found Philip of
Spain on the English throne and Mary Queen of Scots a worse menace in
England, a menace that by the skill of Elizabeth developed into a
headless corpse. Had Elizabeth had a different historical background,
she might have been a different Queen; but, as it was, she dealt with it
as only a genius could who had followed a maniacal Queen who failed in
everything she did.

From the times of Elizabeth, Chesterton moves on to the age of the
Puritans, those rather dull people who have always been the byword for
those who are more popularly known as Prigs. 'The Puritans were
primarily enthusiastic for what they thought was pure religion. Their
great and fundamental idea was that the mind of man can alone directly
deal with the mind of God. Consequently they were anti-sacramental.' Not
only in ecclesiastical matters, they were in doctrine Calvinistic--that
is, they believed 'that men were created to be lost and saved,' a
theological position that makes God a Person who wastes a lot of
valuable time. It was to a large extent this belief in Calvin that made
the Puritans dislike a sacramental principle; it was, of course, quite
unnecessary to have one. If a man was either lost or saved, the need of
any human meditators was not felt.

It is, of course, true, as Chesterton says, that 'England was never
Puritan.' Neither was it ever entirely Catholic, neither has it ever
been entirely Protestant. It is one of the things to be thankful for
that men have ever held different religious opinions. It would be the
greatest mistake if ever the Church was so misguided as to listen to the
cries that come for unity, a unity that could only be founded on the
subordinating of the opinions of the many to the opinion of the few.

I have said at the beginning of this chapter that Chesterton has said
that the Middle Ages have not had the historical attention they deserve.
Whether this is so is a question that cannot be answered here. What we
have to say is whether this book is a valuable one. There are, of
course, many opinions expressed in it that do not take the usual
historical standpoint, or they have a more original way of expression. I
cannot feel that this book is the best of Chesterton's works, not
because it has not some very sound opinions expressed in it, but rather
because to understand its import the ordinary histories must be well
known. It is perhaps a matter of an unsuitable title, 'A Short History
of England.' It would have been better to have called it a 'History of
the Histories of England, and the Mistakes therein.' It would be no use
as an historical book in the school sense, but as an original book on
some of the turning-points of English history it is valuable. Mr.
Chesterton tells us to read history backwards to understand it. This we
may well do if we have read it as fully forward as he evidently has.

_Chapter Six_


Amongst the many outstanding qualities of Chesterton there is one that
is pre-eminent--his extraordinary versatility. It cannot be said that
this quality is always an advantage; a too ready versatility is not
always synonymous with valuable work; especially is this so in literary
matters. There are quite a number of writers who, without success,
attempt to be a little of everything. This is not the case with
Chesterton; if he is better as an essayist than as a historian, he is at
least good as the latter; if he is better at paradox than at concise
statements, he can be, if he chooses, quite free from paradox; if he
excels in satire of a light nature, he can also be the most serious of
critics if the subject needs such treatment.

It has often been said that a good prose writer seldom makes a good
poet. This may be to a certain extent a truism; the opposite is more
often the case; that a good poet is quite often a poor producer of
prose. There is a good reason for this: the mind of a poet is probably
of a different calibre to that of a prose writer; a poet must have a
poetical outlook on life and nature; the tree to him is something more
than a tree, it is probably a symbol, but to a prose writer more often
than not a tree is merely a mass of bark and leaves that adorns the

Chesterton has written a great many poems, all of which can claim to be
poetical in the true sense, but he has only written one really important
poetical work. It is a ballad that is important for two things; firstly,
it is about a very English thing; secondly, the style of the writing is
nothing short of delightful, a statement that is not true of all good
poetry. It has been said that Chesterton might well be the Poet
Laureate; at least, it is a matter for extreme joy that he is not, not
because he is not worth that honour, but because anything that tended to
reduce his poetical output would be a serious thing in these days when
good poets are as scarce as really good novelists.

The poem that has established Chesterton for all time as a poet is the
one he has called with true poetical genius 'The Ballad of the White
Horse.' There have been many white horses, but there is The White Horse,
and he lies alone on the side of a hill down Wiltshire way, where he has
watched with a mournful gaze the centuries pass away as the horizon
passes away in a liquid blue.

The White Horse stands for something that year by year we are
forgetting, those quaint old English feasts that have done so much to
make England merry, and have made history into a beautiful legend that
bears the name of Alfred. Yet the White Horse is falling into neglect.
The author of 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' lamented the fact that people
flew past the White Horse in stuffy first class carriages; were he alive
now he would lament still more that English men and English women can
pass the White Horse without a glance up from the novel they are reading
bound in a flaring yellow cover. But there is one great Englishman who
will never do this, and that is Chesterton; rather he writes of the
White Horse, the lonely horse that is worthy of this splendid poem.

              *       *       *       *       *

In connection with the Vale of White Horse there are three
traditions--one, that Alfred fought a great battle there; another, that
he played a harp in the camp of the Danes; a third, that Alfred proved
himself a very bad cook who wasted a poor woman's cake, a poor woman who
would willingly have sacrificed cakes every day to have the honour of
the king under her roof.

It is of these three traditions that Chesterton writes his poem.
Whether they may be historically accurate does not much matter; there is
no doubt that the Vale had something to do with the King of Wessex, and
popular tradition has made the name of Alfred a national legend.

When Chesterton writes of the vision of the king he is no doubt writing
of his own vision of the events that led up to the gathering of the
chiefs. The Danes had descended on England like a cloud of locusts; it
was the time that needed a National Champion, as time and again in the
past the Israelites had needed one. It is one of the strange things of
history that a champion has always appeared when he was most needed. The
name of the Danes inspired terror; Wessex was shattered--

    'For earthquake following earthquake
    Uprent the Wessex tree ...'

The kings of Wessex were weary and disheartened: fire and pillage had
laid the countryside bare with that horrible bareness that only lies in
the wake of conqueror:

    'There was not English armour left,
      Nor any English thing,
    When Alfred came to Athelney
      To be an English king.'

This was the vision that Alfred had, and he gathered the disheartened
chiefs to his side till, in victory, he could bear the name of king.

              *       *       *       *       *

In the wake of national champions there have ever appeared popular tales
demonstrating the human qualities of these giants; if Napoleon could
conquer empires, tradition has never forgotten that he once pardoned a
sentry he found asleep at his post. If Wellington won the battle of
Waterloo by military genius, so popular hearsay has urged that he
commanded the Guards to charge 'La Grande Armée' in cockney terms.
Around the almost sacred name of Alfred many and various are the old
wives' tales, among which the story of his harp is not the least
picturesque; it is one on which Chesterton expends a good deal of poetic

From the gist of the poem it is evident that Alfred, in the course of
his wanderings, came near to the White Horse, but as though for very

    'The great White Horse was grey.'

Down the hill the Danes came in headlong flight and carried Alfred off
to their camp; his fame as a harpist had pierced the ears of the

    'And hearing of his harp and skill,
    They dragged him to their play.'

The Danes might well laugh at the song of the king, but it was a laugh
that was soon to be turned to weeping when the king had finished his

    'And the king with harp on shoulder
      Stood up and ceased his song;
    And the owls moaned from the mighty trees,
      And the Danes laughed loud and long.'

There is in this poem a pleasant rhythm and a clearness of meaning that
is absent from much good poetry. Chesterton has caught the wild romantic
background of the time when the King of England could play a harp in the
camp of his enemies; when he could, by a note, bring back the
disheartened warriors to renew the fight; when he could be left to look
after the cakes and be scolded when, like the English villages, they
were burnt. One of the most popular of the legends is the one connected
with Alfred and the woman of the forest. It has made Chesterton write
some of his most charming verse.

And Alfred came to the door of a woman's cottage and there rested, with
the promise that in return he would watch the cakes that they did not


    'The good food fell upon the ash,
      And blackened instantly.'

The woman was naturally annoyed that this unknown tramp should let her
cooking spoil:

    'Screaming, the woman caught a cake
      Yet burning from the bar,
    And struck him suddenly on the face,
      Leaving a scarlet scar.'

The scar was on the king's brow, a scar that tens of thousands should
follow to victory:

    'A terrible harvest, ten by ten,
    As the wrath of the last red autumn--then
      When Christ reaps down the kings.'

In a preface to this poem, with regard to that part which deals with the
battle of Enthandune, Chesterton says: 'I fancy that in fact Alfred's
Wessex was of very mixed bloods; I have given a fictitious Roman, Celt,
and Saxon a part in the glory of Enthandune.'

              *       *       *       *       *

The battle of Enthandune is divided into three parts. The poetry is
specially noticeable for the great harmony of the words with the subject
of the lines; it is one of the great characteristics of Chesterton's
poetry that he uses language that intimately expresses what he wants to
describe. He can, in a few lines, describe the discipline of an army:

    'And when they came to the open land
    They wheeled, deployed, and stood.'

It is perfect poetry concerning the machine-like movements of
highly-trained troops.

The death of an earl that occurs in a moment of battle: we can almost
see the blow, the quick change on the face from life to death; we can
almost hear the death gurgle:

    'Earl Harold, as in pain,
    Strove for a smile, put hand to head,
    Stumbled and suddenly fell dead,
    And the small white daisies all waxed red
    With blood out of his brain.'

Of the tremendous power of a charge, Chesterton can give us the meaning
in two lines that might otherwise take a page of prose:

    'Spears at the charge!' yelled Mark amain,
    'Death to the gods of Death.'

Whether it be to victory or defeat, the last charge grips the
imagination, just as the latest words of a great man are remembered long
after he has turned to dust. The final charge of the Old Guard, the
remnant of Napoleon's ill-fated army at Waterloo, the dying words of
Nelson, these are the things that produce great poetry.

Some of the verses describing the last charge at Enthandune are the
finest lines Chesterton has so far written. It will not be out of place
to quote one or two of the best--the challenge of Alfred to his
followers to make an effort against the dreaded Danes, at whose very
name strong men would pale:

    'Brothers-at-arms,' said Alfred,
      'On this side lies the foe;
    Are slavery and starvation flowers,
      That you should pluck them so?'

Or the death of the Danish leader, who would have pierced Alfred through
and through:

    'Short time had shaggy Ogier
    To pull his lance in line--
    He knew King Alfred's axe on high,
    He heard it rushing through the sky;
    He cowered beneath it with a cry--
    It split him to the spine;
    And Alfred sprang over him dead,
    And blew the battle sign.'

The last part of the poem is that which gives an account of the scouring
of the White Horse, in the years of peace:

    'When the good king sat at home.'

But through everything the White Horse remained--

    'Untouched except by the hand of Nature:
    The turf crawled and the fungus crept,
    And the little sorrel, while all men slept,
    Unwrought the work of man.'

'The Ballad of the White Horse' is in its way one of the best things
Chesterton has done: it is a fine poem about a very picturesque piece of
English legend, which may or may not be based on history. Poetry can,
and very often does, fulfil a great patriotic mission in arousing
interest in those distant times when Englishmen, with their backs to the
wall, responded to the cry of Alfred, as they did when, centuries later,
the hordes of Germans attempted to cut the knot of Haig's army.

For hundreds of years Alfred has been turned to dust, but the White
Horse remains, a perpetual monument to the great days when England was
invaded by the Danes. 'The Ballad of the White Horse' is a ballad worthy
of the immortal horse that will remain centuries after the author of the
poem has passed out of mortal sight.

              *       *       *       *       *

In an early volume of light verse Chesterton wrote of the kind of games
that old men with beards would delight in. 'Greybeards at Play' is a
delightful set of satirical verses in which the ardent philosopher
confers a favour on Nature by being on intimate and patronising terms
with her.

This dear old philosopher, with grey beard and presumably long nose and
large spectacles, is full of admiration for the heavenly beings:

    'I love to see the little stars
      All dancing to one tune;
    I think quite highly of the Sun,
      And kindly of the Moon.'

Coming to earth, this same philosopher is full of friendly relations
with America, for--

    'The great Niagara waterfall
    Is never shy with me.'

In the same volume Chesterton writes of the spread of æstheticism, and
that the cult of the Soul had a terrible effect on trade:

    'The Shopmen, when their souls were still,
      Declined to open shops--
    And Cooks recorded frames of mind
      In sad and subtle chops.'

In a small volume of poems called 'Wine, Water, and Song,' we have some
of the poems that appear in Chesterton's novels. They have a delightful
air of brilliancy and satire, about dogs and grocers and that peculiar
king of the Jews, Nebuchadnezzar, who, when he is spoken of by scholars,
alters his name to Nebuchadrezzar. We have but room for one quotation,
and the place of honour must be given to the epic of the grocer who,
like many of other trades, makes a fortune by giving short weights:

    'The Hell-Instructed Grocer
      Has a Temple made of Tin,
    And the Ruin of good innkeepers
      Is loudly urged therein;
    But now the sands are running out
      From sugar of a sort,
    The Grocer trembles, for his time,
      Just like his weight, is short.'

              *       *       *       *       *

The hymn that Mr. Chesterton has written, called 'O God of Earth and
Altar,' is unfortunately so good and so entirely sensible that the
clergy on the whole have not used it much; rather they prefer to sing of
heaven with a golden floor and a gate of pearl, ignoring a really fine
hymn that pictures God as a sensible Being and not a Lord Chief Justice
either of sickly sentimentality or of the type of a Judge Jeffreys.

It must be said that to many people who know Chesterton he is first and
foremost an essayist and lastly a poet. The reason is that he has
written comparatively little serious poetry; this is, I think, rather a
pity--not that quantity is always consistent with quality, but that in
some way it may not be too much to say that Chesterton is the best poet
of the day; and I do not forget that he has as contemporaries Alfred
Noyes and Walter de la Mare.

The strong characteristic of his poetry, as I have said, is the wealth
of language; to this must be added the exceedingly pleasant rhythm that
runs as easily as a well-oiled bicycle. If Mr. Chesterton is not known
to posterity as one of the leading poets of the twentieth century it
will be because his prose is so well known that his poetry is rather
crowded out.

_Chapter Seven_


Nearly eight years ago all literary and dramatic London focused its eyes
on a theatre that was known as the Little Theatre. On the night of
November 7th the critics might have been seen making their way along
John Street with just the faintest suspicion of mirth in their eyes.

The reason was that the most eccentric genius of the day had written a
play, and it was to be produced that night, and had the name of MAGIC, a
title that might indicate something that turned princes into wolves, or
transported people on carpets to distant lands, or might be more simply
a play that dealt with Magic in the sense that there really was such a

The play was a success--I could see that it would be at the moment Mr.
Bernard Shaw so forgot himself as to be interested in something he had
not himself written. The Press was charmed with the play and went so far
as to say, with a gross burlesque of Chesterton, that it was 'real
phantasy and had soul.' Chesterton by his one produced play had earned
the right to call himself a dramatic author, who could make the public
shiver and think at the same time, an unusual combination.

I rather fancy that Magic is a theological argument, disguised in the
form of a play, that relies for its effects on clever conversation, the
moving of pictures, and a mysterious person who may have been a conjurer
and may have also been a magician.

When I say that the play is really a theological one, I do not mean to
say that it has anything to do with the Thirty-Nine Articles, the
Validity of the Anglican Orders, or even the truth of the Virgin Birth;
rather it is about an indefinable 'something' that is so simple that it
is misunderstood by every one.

The play turns upon five people who are thrown together in a room that
has a nasty habit of becoming ghostly at times.

The five people are a doctor who is a scientist, who does not believe in
anything not material being scientific; a vicar who is a typical
clergyman, who thoroughly believes in supernatural things until they are
proved, when he becomes an agnostic; a young American who is a cad and a
fool; a girl who believes in fairies and goes to Holy Communion, which
is the one thing that depicts she has a certain amount of sense; a duke
who ends every sentence with a quotation from Tennyson to Bernard Shaw.

These five people are influenced by a Pied Piper kind of fellow who
calls himself a conjurer, and is rather too clever for the company.

Apparently the conjurer has been strolling about the garden when he
meets Patricia, who thinks he can produce fairies. In due course the
conjurer comes into the room, where he has encounters with the various
occupants, who don't believe in his tricks; the conjurer is unlucky
enough to meet the young American cad Morris Carleon, who is really
quite rude to the conjurer and discovers (so he thinks) all the tricks
except one in which the conjurer turns the red lamp at the doctor's gate
blue. This so worries Morris that he goes up to his room with a chance
of going mad.

The others beseech the conjurer to explain the trick; he does so, and
says it is done by magic, which is the whole point of the play, that we
are left to wonder whether it was by magic or by a natural phenomenon.

The conjurer gets the better of the parson, the Rev. Cyril Smith, who
believes in a model public house and the Old Testament, and takes a good
stipend for pretending to believe in the supernatural.

The result of the whole matter is magic, by which we presume the trick
may have been done.

              *       *       *       *       *

The play is in some ways a difficult one: we are left wondering whether
or not Chesterton believes in magic; if he does, then the conjurer need
not have been so upset that he had gained so much power of a psychic
nature; if he does not, then the conjurer was a clever fraud or a
brilliant hypnotist.

One thing is quite certain, Chesterton brings out the weaknesses of the
dialectic of the parson and doctor in a remarkable way; he makes us
realise that there are some things we really know nothing about; if
lamps turn blue suddenly it may quite well be a 'Something' that may be
magic and might be God or Satan; anyhow, it cannot be explained by an
American young man; it is of the things that the clergy profess to
believe in and very often do not.

It is, I think, undoubtedly a problem play, and I doubt very much if
Chesterton knows what was the agency that did the trick, but I rather
think that 'Magic' is a great play, not because of the situations, but
rather because the more the play is studied the more difficult is it to
say exactly what is the lesson of it.

Magic is called a phantastic comedy; it might well be called a
phantastic tragedy.

_Chapter Eight_


There is perhaps no word in the English language which is more elastic
than the word novel as applied to what is commonly known as fiction. The
word novel is used to describe stories that are as far apart as the
Poles. Thus it is used to describe a classic by Thackeray or Dickens, or
a clever love tale by Miss Dell, or a brilliantly outspoken sex tale by
Miss Elinor Glyn, or a romance by Miss Corelli, or a tale of adventure
by Joseph Conrad, or a very modern type of analytical novel by very
modern writers who are a little bit young and a big bit old.

I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that Chesterton as a
novelist carries the art yet a step farther and has added elasticity to
the word. It would, I think, be probably untrue to say that Chesterton
is a popular novelist; he is much too unlike one to be so. That he is
read by a wide public is not the same thing; he has not the following of
the millions that Charles Garvice had, for the millions who understood
him might find Chesterton difficult. Really Chesterton is read by a
select number of people who would claim to be intellectual; very
up-to-date clergymen rave about his catholicity, high-brow ladies of
smart clubs delight in his knave whimsicalities, but the girl in the
suburban train to Wimbledon passes by on the other side.

One of the characteristic features of Chesterton's novels is his clever
selection of titles that are by their very nature fit to designate his
original works. If in journalism nine-tenths of the importance of an
article depends upon its title, it is equally true that the title of a
novel is of the same import. Either a title should give some indication
of the nature of the book, or it should be of the kind that makes us
want to read it; this is the case with regard to the Chesterton novels,
their designations are so phantastic that our curiosity is aroused. Thus
'The Man who was Thursday' gives no possible explanation of what it is
about, but it does suggest that it is interesting to know about a man
who was Thursday; 'The Flying Inn' may be a forecast of prohibition or
it may be a romance of the time when inns shall fly to the ends of the
earth; 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill' leads us to suppose that perhaps
there was a hidden history of that part of London, that Notting Hill can
boast of a past that makes it worthy of having been a station on the
first London tube.

It is unsafe to prophesy any limit to the versatility of Chesterton, but
it is improbable that he could write an ordinary novel; the reason is, I
fancy, that he cannot write of the ordinary emotions with the ease that
he can construct grotesque situations. This is why I have said that, as
a novelist, Chesterton is not popular in the sense that he is read by
the masses (that word that the Church always uses to indicate those who
form the bulk of the community). As a novelist, Chesterton stands apart,
not because he is better than contemporary writers of fiction, but
because his books are unlike those of any one else.

I have taken Chesterton's most famous novels and have written a
short survey of their character. They are not always easy to
understand--sometimes they seem to indicate alternative points of view;
they teem with pungent wit and shrewd observations, they are without
doubt phantastic, they are in the true sense clever.


At the time of the publication of this book the critics with astounding
frankness admitted that, while this was a fine book, they had difficulty
in deciphering what it meant. One, now a well-known Fleet Street editor,
went farther, and said that possibly the author himself did not know
what he meant--a situation in which quite a number of authors have found
themselves, especially when they read the reviews of their books.

'The Napoleon of Notting Hill' is not an easy book to understand: it may
be a satire, it may be a serious book, it may be a prophecy, it may be a
joke, it may even be a novel! I think that it is a little bit of a joke,
in a degree serious--something of a satire, possibly a prophecy.

The main thing about the book is that a king is so unwise as to make a
joke, and an obscure poet is more unwise in taking this Royal joke
seriously. Many who have laughed at monarchical wit have found that
their heads had an alarming trick of falling on Tower Hill.

In 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill' we are living a hundred years on, and
we are to believe that London hasn't much changed; a certain respectable
gentleman has been made a king for no special reason--a very good way of
having a versatile monarchy and a selection of kings.

Not far off in the kingdom of Notting Hill there resides a poet who has
written poems that no one reads. He is a romantic youth, and loves
Notting Hill with the love of a Roman for Rome or of a Jew for
Whitechapel. The new king, by way of a joke, suggests that it would be
quite a good idea to take the various parts of London and restore them
to a mediæval dignity; thus 'Clapham should have a city guard, Wimbledon
a city wall, Surbiton tolling a bell to raise its citizens.'

It so happens that the obscure poet, Adam Wayne, has always seen in
Notting Hill a glory that her citizens cannot see; he determines to make
the grocers and barbers of that neighbourhood realise their rich
inheritance. The new king, for some reason, desires to possess Pump
Street in Notting Hill, and this gives the poet's dream a chance to
mature; and he gets together a huge army, with himself as Lord High
Provost of Notting Hill. There are some frightful battles in the
adjacent states of Kensington and Bayswater, and, after varying
fortunes, the Notting Hill Army is defeated, the Napoleon becomes again
the poet of Notting Hill, while his citizens have developed from grocers
to romanticists, from barbers to fanatics.

That there might be in the future a Napoleon of Notting Hill is highly
improbable, that London will ever return to the pomp and heraldry of the
Middle Ages is not at all likely; but that in a hundred years Notting
Hill will be different is quite possible. If it is not likely that there
will be fights between Bayswater and Notting Hill, there may at least be
battles in the air unthought of; it may well be that its citizens in
times of peace will take a half-day trip, not to Kew Gardens or to
Hampton Court, but to Bombay and Cape Town.


One of the strangest complications that man has to face is the criminal
mind. It is so complex that no society has ever understood it; very
often it has not taken the trouble to try. No method of punishment has
stamped out the criminal; no reformers, however ardent, have freed the
world from those who live by violence, kill by violence, and are
themselves killed by violence. If crime is a disease, then to treat
criminals as wrongdoers is absurd. If every murderer is insane, then
hanging is nonsense; if a murderer is sane, then sanity is capable of
being more revolting than insanity.

'Manalive' may, perhaps, be called a philosophy of the motive for crime;
it may be a pseudo philosophy--at least it is an entertaining one--which
cannot be said about all serious attempts at moulding the universe into
a tiresome system, that is uprooted generally by the next thinker. The
book opens with a very strong gale that ends with the arrival at a
boarding house of a man who can stand on his head and has the name of
Innocent Smith. He is somewhat like the person in the 'Passing of the
Third Floor Back,' in that he revolutionizes the household, who cannot
determine whether he is a lunatic or not; anyhow, he falls in love with
the girl of the house. Unfortunately, rumour--a nasty, ill-natured
thing--has it that Smith is a criminal. Evidence is collected, and a
Grand Jury inquire into the charges, which include Bigamy, Murder,
Polygamy, Burglary. It looks as if Smith is in for a very uncomfortable
time, and the wedding bells are a long way from ringing.

The second part of the book is concerned with these charges and the
conduct and motives of Smith. But Chesterton is a clever barrister, and
shows that the motives behind the 'crimes' are not only within the law,
but are extremely useful and throw a new light on criminology.

The crime of murder of which Smith is accused is one that he is supposed
to have perpetrated in his college days. It was nothing less than firing
at the Warden. The reason was not at all that Smith wanted to murder the
Warden, but, rather, to discover if his theory of 'the elimination of
life being desirable' was a sincere one. It was not. As soon as the
Professor thought he might attain the desired bliss of death, he desired
more than anything that he might live. The fact, then, that Smith
pointed a pistol at his Warden was perfectly justifiable; it had the
eminently good principle of wishing to test a theory.

If Smith was a bigamist he was so with his own wife, only that he
happened to like to live with her in various places; if he was a
burglar, he was perfectly justified, because he merely robbed his own
house--in fact, he does not wish to steal, because he can covet his own
goods. Chesterton, on these grounds, acquits the prisoner.

At the end of the book another or the same great gale springs up, and
Smith, accompanied by Mary of the boarding-house, disappears. Clever as
Chesterton's explanations of the crimes are, we shall not probably shoot
at the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge in order to demonstrate
to him how desirable life really is; we shall not burgle our own
sitting-room for the mere excitement of it; we shall not flit with our
wife from Peckham to Marylebone, from Singapore to Bagdad, to imagine
that we are bigamists or polygamists; rather, we shall sit at home and
sigh that all crimes cannot be as easily settled as those Chesterton
propounds and shows are not crimes at all.


It is usually assumed that a theological argument is a dull and prosy
affair that has as its perpetrators either Professors of Theology or
Professors of Rationalism. It is, of course, true that many Professors
of Theology are dull, but they do not usually argue about theology at
all. Professors of Rationalism are equally dull and are seldom happy
when not engaged on the hopeless task of trying to understand God when
they know nothing about Man and little about Satan.

'The Ball and the Cross' is a theological novel. It is, without any
doubt, the most brilliant of Chesterton's novels; it is an argument
between a Christian ass and a very decent atheist. Atheists, if they are
sincere, are on the way to becoming good Christians; Christians, if they
are insincere, are on the way to becoming atheists.

The book opens with a theological argument in the air between a
professor and a monk. This becomes to the professor so wearisome that,
with great good sense, he leaves the monk clinging to the cross at the
top of St. Paul's Cathedral while he disappears into the clouds in his
silver airship.

Having successfully climbed into the gallery, the monk is arrested as a
wandering lunatic and taken off to an asylum. Meanwhile, a great deal of
excitement is agitating Ludgate Hill, where an atheistic editor runs a
paper that propounds (with all the usual insults at Christ, which
culminate in an attack on the method of the birth of Christ) the creed
of atheism. A particularly slanderous attack on the Virgin Mary results
in an ardent Roman Catholic throwing a stone through the blasphemer's

The result is that they are both brought up before the magistrate, and
the two men decide to fight a duel.

The whole book really, then, consists of a theological argument between
the two, interspersed with attempts to settle their differences by a
duel, which is always interrupted at the crucial moment. Finally, after
queer adventures, the two arrive in a lunatic asylum, in which they are
kept until the place is burned down. It so happens that the chief doctor
of the place turns out to be Professor Lucifer, who had left the monk
clinging to the Cross at the top of the Cathedral. He is burnt to death
in an airship disaster, and the atheist and the Catholic end their

'The Ball and the Cross' is very full of fine passages. It presents the
side of the atheist and the Catholic in a brilliant manner. The chapter
that describes the trial before the magistrate has got the atmosphere of
the police-court to perfection. Not less good is the Chestertonian
satire of the comments of the Press on the case, in which Chesterton
makes some pungent remarks about Fleet Street 'stunts.' Perhaps one of
the best things in the book is the argument between the French Catholic
girl and Turnbull the atheist on the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
This passage must be quoted; it is one of the best arguments for the
Sacrament that has been written for those people who can see that (even
in these days) bread is a symbol for the Presence of the Life Giver, and
wine a symbol for the Presence of the Life Force.

'I am sure,' cried Turnbull, 'there is no God.'

'But there is,' said Madeleine quietly; 'why, I touched His body this

'You touched a bit of bread,' said Turnbull.

'You think it is only a bit of bread,' said the girl.

'I know it is only a bit of bread,' said Turnbull, with violence.

'Then why did you refuse to eat it?' she said.

              *       *       *       *       *

If 'Orthodoxy' is the finest of Chesterton's essays, 'Browning' the best
of his critical studies, 'The Ballad of the White Horse' the best of his
poems, there is, I think, little doubt that this strange theological
exposition, 'The Ball and the Cross,' is the best of his novels. It
should be read by all rationalists, by all self-satisfied Christians, by
all heretics, by those who are orthodox, and, above all, it should be
read by those millions who pass St. Paul's Cathedral and seldom if ever
give a thought to the 'Ball and the Cross' that has made the title of
Chesterton's best novel.


Chesterton is once more a laughing prophet in this book, and he has as
sad a state of things to prophesy as had Jeremiah to the Israelites,
those people who, if it were not that they find a place in the sacred
writings, would be the most silly and futile race of ancient history.

The scene of the story is England, and the last inn is there. We are to
imagine that the non-drinking wine dogma of Islam has permeated England.
It is a sorry state of things when--

    'The wicked old women who feel well-bred,
    Have turned to a teashop the Saracen's Head.'

The great charm of the book is the poetry that the Irish captain recites
to Pump, the innkeeper, the gallant innkeeper who, against all
opposition, keeps the flag flying and the flagon full. If the book is a
little overdrawn it is, no doubt, because the subject is slightly
farcical; the arguments of the Oriental are well put, and, if the
discussion of the merits of vegetarianism are a little wearisome, the
poetry of a vegetarian is splendid:

    'For I stuff away for life
    Shoving peas in with a knife,
    Because I am at heart a vegetarian.'

Thus, if we observe queer manners at Eustace Miles we shall know the

No doubt the adventures of the last innkeeper in England would be
wonderful; there would be half-day trips to see him; bishops would flock
to gaze upon the last relic of a pagan England; the Poet Laureate might
so forget himself as to write an 'Epic of the Last Innkeeper'; editors
would be sending lady reporters to give the feminine view of the finish
of drinking; publishers would fall over one another in their eagerness
to secure the 'Memoirs of the Last Publican'; the Salvation Army would
put the last drunkard in the British Museum as a prehistoric specimen;
on the death of this National Hero, the Dean of Westminster would
politely offer the Abbey for a memorial service, with no tickets for the
best places.

Chesterton gives other adventures to this last innkeeper. He is, we
hope, a false prophet for this once. Were there to be no beer perhaps
not even the pen of Chesterton would be able to describe the scenes that
would take place in England.


Anarchy is a very interesting subject and is used to denote very
different things. It may be something that puts a bullet through a king
with the insane hope of ending the monarchy; it may be an act of a
God-fearing Protestant clergyman when he attempts to harry the Catholics
by denying that the crucifix is the proper symbol of the Christian
religion; it may be the act of God when a village is destroyed by an
earthquake or an island created by a seaquake.

'The Man who was Thursday' is about an anarchist, and we are not sure
whether Chesterton is not pulling our respectable legs and laughing that
we really believed the party of desperadoes were real anarchists. The
fact is, the book starts in a highly respectable suburb that might be
anywhere near London and could not be far from it.

There are two poets strolling about under the canopy of a lovely sky;
one believes in anarchy, the other doesn't--the one who does invites the
one who does not to come with him and see what anarchy is. This he does,
and, after a good supper of lobster mayonnaise, the two get down to a
subterranean cavern where are assembled half the anarchists of the
world, precisely six; they call themselves by the names of the week,
with a leader, who is met with later, Sunday.

Syme, the visitor, is appointed as a member, and becomes, Thursday; he
has a great many adventures, including breakfast, overlooking Leicester
Square, and gradually discovers that the said anarchists, unknown at
first to each other, are really Scotland Yard detectives.

The only real anarchist is the poet who believed in it, whose name is
Gregory. He has the pious wish to destroy the world; he may be Satan, if
that person could ever pretend to be a poet.

What does Chesterton mean by this strange weird tale that is almost like
a romance of Oppenheim and is yet like an old-world allegory? Is he
laughing at anarchists that they are but policemen in disguise? Is he
saying that policemen are really only anarchists? Or does he mean that
the Devil masquerades as the spirit of the Holy Day of the week
'Sunday,' or is 'Sunday' really Christ?

Chesterton calls this novel a nightmare; a nightmare is usually a
muddled kind of thing with no connections at all; it is a dream turned
into a blasphemy. The book may mean several things; it is quite possible
that it may mean nothing; there is no need for a novel to mean anything
so long as it is readable. 'The Man who was Thursday' certainly is that,
but it leaves us with an uneasy suspicion that it is a very serious book
and at the same time it may be merely a farce.

              *       *       *       *       *

Space does not permit us to more than mention Chesterton's two detective
books, 'The Innocence of Father Brown' and 'The Wisdom of Father Brown.'
They are a highly original series of detective tales. 'The Club of Queer
Trades' is a volume of quaint short stories full of Chesterton's genius.

Since Chesterton wrote these books an event has occurred to him which
may have a considerable effect on his writings. His novels have always
shown a Catholic tendency when they have touched at all on religion.
They have not, of course, the propagandist setting of the works of
Father R.H. Benson, nor do they have a contempt for other Churches
that so often blackens the writings of Roman Catholic apologists.

The event is one that has occasioned the usual mistake in the Press.
They have said with loud emphasis, 'Mr. Chesterton has joined the
Catholic Church.' He has not; there is, unfortunately, no Catholic
Church that he could have joined; what he has done is to be received
into the Roman part of the Catholic Church.

This is a matter of importance to Chesterton; it is a matter of far
greater importance to the Roman Catholics. If the Roman Church is wise
she will not put her ban on Chesterton's writings--his intellect is far
beyond the ken of the Pope; his utterances are of more import than all
the Papal Bulls. She has secured, as her ally, one of the finest
intellects of the day, one of the best Christian apologists.

If, then, we have further novels from the pen of Chesterton we shall
expect them to have a Roman bias, but we shall hope that they will not
bear any signs that Rome has dictated the policy that has made many of
her best priests mere puppets, afraid, not of the Church, but of the
Pope, who often enough in history has been a very ignorant man.

Of present-day novelists it is in no way fair to compare them to
Chesterton; 'some contemporary novelists are better than he is, some are
worse.' These are statements the writer of this book has often heard;
they are entirely unfair. Chesterton, as I have said, stands apart; his
works are for the most part symbolic. This is their difficulty: any of
his books may be the symbol for several points of view with the
exception of his religious position, which is always on the side of
Christianity, and, I think, the Roman Catholic interpretation of it; his
dialogue is worthy of Anthony Hope, his dramatic power is intense, his
satire is never ill-natured, it is always cutting, his humour is gentle,
pathos is rare in his novels, he has never described a woman, he is
undoubtedly a philosopher, but he is not one who is academic, above all
he is the genial writer of phantastic tales that are as wide as the

_Chapter Nine_


It may be somewhat arbitrary to proceed straight away to nearly the end
of Chesterton's 'Superstition of Divorce' to find an argument that shows
that he doesn't quite understand what divorce aims at; but it is well,
when taking note of a book on an alleged abuse of modern society, to
also see that the writer has got hold of the right end of the stick. It
is no doubt unfortunate that many marriages said to be made in heaven
end in hell. Divorce may be a sign that men have no reverence for
marriage, it may equally be an argument that they reverence it very
much; but there is no good reason for attributing to divorce only very
low motives and one of the lowest that can be found; consequently I have
started in the middle of this book.

In a chapter on the tragedies of marriage, Chesterton remarks that 'the
broad-minded are extremely bitter because a Christian, who wishes to
have several wives when his own promise bound him to one, is not allowed
to violate his vow at the same altar at which he made it.' What most
people who wish for a divorce want is that they shall have, not several
wives, but one, who shall prove that Christian marriage is not a
horrible farce, that the words of the priest were not a miserable
blasphemy. Chesterton has made a very big mistake if he thinks that the
exponents of divorce wish the Church to be a party to polygamy; what
they want is that the Church shall show a little common sense and not
rely on the tradition of hotly disputed texts.

I think it is perfectly clear that Chesterton can see no good in divorce
at all. I have said it may be a very good argument for those who wish
to make marriage what it is said by the Church to be--a Divine
institution. Many people seek divorce, not that, as Chesterton implies,
they shall run away with the wife of the man across the square, but
that, having been unlucky in a speculation, they wish quite naturally
and quite rightly to try again, to the infinite satisfaction of all
parties. If the Church does not agree that divorce is ever right, so
much the worse for that Divine institution; if the Church is right in
holding that marriages are made by God, then civil marriages are not
marriages at all, and there is no need to worry about divorce, because
the most ardent reformer does not imagine that man can undo the Divine
decree; on the other hand, the Church never will face the fact that, if
all marriages in a church by a priest are Divine, then it is rather
strange that the result of them very often would be more consistent with
a Satanic origin.

I am dwelling at some length on this theological argument because,
though Chesterton does not base his case on that argument, he
undoubtedly considers that divorce is against the Church's teaching, and
the Church to which he now belongs would not allow him to think
otherwise. Before I finally leave this side of the question there is one
other consideration that must be faced. Whatever the texts in the New
Testament relating to divorce may mean, it is rather unfortunate that
they are attributed to a bachelor. Whether Christ had any good reason
for knowing anything about divorce is not an irreverent one, but it is
one that the Church must face to-day.

Another thing that Chesterton does not seem to realize is that many
people do not want divorce to marry again, but to be free of a partner
who is not one in the most superficial sense of the word; at the same
time a separation does not meet the case, as it is always possible that
a man or woman may wish to take the matrimonial plunge again. Chesterton
seems to think it is amusing to poke fun at those who are sensible
enough to wish to make lunacy a sufficient ground for divorce. 'The
process' he says, 'might begin by releasing somebody from a homicidal
maniac and end by dealing with a rather dull conversationalist.' He
might have added, to make the joke complete, or from some one who
snores, or keeps cats, or reads Bernard Shaw.

'To put it roughly,' says Chesterton, 'we are prepared in some cases to
listen to a man who complains of having a wife. But we are not prepared
to listen at such length to the same man when he comes back and
complains that he has not got a wife. In a word, divorce is a
controversy about remarriage; or, rather, about whether it is marriage
at all.' To a certain extent Chesterton is right when he says that the
controversy about divorce is really about remarriage, but what he
forgets is, that for the hundreds who want divorce to be remarried,
there are thousands who want it to be unmarried. The reason a man
complains of having a wife is, of course, often that he prefers a
mistress; but it is equally true that another cause for complaint is
that his wife has for him none of the recognized attributes of the
normal state of wifehood.

I have always understood that in some sense Chesterton was a journalist
of the kind who is rather hard on journalism, but I did not know until I
read this book on divorce that he so little understood newspapers and
their writers. Commenting on the fact that the Press is sensible enough
to use divorce as a news item, he says: 'The newspapers are full of an
astonishing hilarity about the rapidity with which hundreds of thousands
of human families are being broken up by the lawyers; and about the
undisguised haste of the "hustling" judges who carry on the work.' I
wonder if Mr. Chesterton ever reads the leaders of certain papers,
leaders which never fail to regret the enormous amount of divorce there
is. If it be true that there is a great deal of news of divorce in the
Press, it is because the Press does not give news of an imaginary world
that is a Utopia, but of the dear old muddle-headed world as it is. Does
Chesterton fail to see that if the newspapers did not report the Divorce
Courts, the numbers of cases would increase from thousands to millions.
It is useless Chesterton sighing that lawyers have become breakers of
families; they have also become restrainers of suicide. If the judges
hustle, it is because they are sensible enough to see that most of the
divorces are justifiable; when they have not been, they have not been
slow to say so.

Yet again Chesterton repeats the somewhat superficial argument against
divorce that its obvious effect would be frivolous marriage. The normal
person on his or her wedding day luckily does not think about anything
beyond the supreme happiness they have found at least at the time. It is
lightly said that the modern Adam and Eve think of the chances of
divorce before marriage whatever may be the cause of divorce afterwards;
at least it will be agreed that it is a failure of a particular two
people who thought that their lives together would be a mutual
happiness. Therefore, when Chesterton says that divorce is likely to
make frivolous marriages he is saying that couples about to marry do so
expecting it to be a failure. If this be so, then the young men and
women of to-day are more hopeless than they are commonly made to appear
by correspondence about them in the papers. If, on the other hand, every
couple on marriage knew for a certainty that it was 'till death us do
part,' it is more than likely that marriage would be a thing that was
abnormal, not normal. It might even be that the Church would have to
listen to reason, and be disturbed over worse things than divorce, and
whether she should endeavour to take a Christian attitude to those who
had been unfortunate or indiscreet.

Chesterton is very concerned that the time will come when 'there will be
a distinction between those who are married and those who are really
married.' This is precisely to state what is Utopia. At present many
people who are really married are in the chains of slavery; the more who
get out of it the better. As the number of those whose marriages are a
farce will gradually diminish, thus will divorce be a godsend. Divorce
is, in certain cases, a godsend, but the priests refuse to listen to the
Divine revelation.

Chesterton sketches at some length the nature of a vow. He considers
that Henry the VIII broke the civilization of vows when he wished to
have done with his wife. It is quite possible that he did, but it is
also possible that she did precisely the same thing. The question in
regard to our inquiry is: Is the marriage vow entirely binding even when
the other party to the contract has broken it? The opponents of divorce,
amongst whom are Chesterton, will quite easily say that it is, yet they
cheerfully ignore the fact that in a marriage two persons make a
contract, and if one breaks it there is quite a good reason that the vow
made is no longer one at all. It is a very interesting question whether
a vow should ever be broken. Should Jephthah have broken the vow that
sacrificed his daughter? Should Herod have broken his vow that laid the
head of John the Baptist on a charger? Should two people remain together
when (if they have not broken their actual vows) they have lost the
spirit of them? The opponents of divorce, who are so eager over the
keeping of the marriage vow, are they as eager that it shall be but a
miserable skeleton?

Chesterton does not see any particular reason why the exponents should
be anxious to secure easier divorce for the poor man. It is, he thinks,
'encouraging him to look for a new wife.' If he has a wife who isn't one
at all, the best thing for him is to look for another who will prove to
be so, otherwise he will search for the nearest public-house and a cheap
prostitute. Surely it is better that it be granted his first marriage
was a failure and let him try decently for a better.

Of course, the most sensible plan would be to give divorce for all sorts
of small things; people would soon then tire of it. Chesterton tells us
that already in America there is demand for less divorce consequent on
the increased facilities over there. In England there is demand for
more. Let it be given freely and the demand will soon cease. Why should
our policy be dictated by a celibate priesthood? Does Chesterton think
that people who hate one another are going to live together as though
they were the most ardent lovers? Does he consider that it would be
better to have no divorce and no marriage as a consequence? Does he
consider that ill-assorted couples will make happy nations? Does he
really consider that divorce can destroy marriage? Does he consider that
the newspapers print the divorce cases because they have no other copy?

Chesterton's book is, I think, unfair on some points. He considers
divorce is a superstition; he holds that it is pernicious from a social
standpoint; he considers that it encourages adultery; he considers that
it is the breaking of a vow; but has he ever seriously considered that
if all divorce is wrong, that marriage very often is the most miserable
caricature of Divinity possible? Has he thought what the state of the
country would be if no marriage could ever be broken or a fresh
matrimonial start made? If such a thing happened it might make him write
a book on the 'Superstition of Non-Divorce.'

_Chapter Ten_


There are four ways of going to Jerusalem--the one is to go as a pilgrim
would go to Mecca; another is to go as a tourist in much the way that an
American staying in Russell Square might start for a trip round London.
Again, it is possible to go to Jerusalem for yet a third reason, that of
wishing quite humbly to be in some way a modern Crusader. There is yet a
fourth way, which is to be made to go for reasons that are called
military and are really political.

'The New Jerusalem' is, above all, a massive book. It is the record of a
tour, and it is something more, it is an appreciation of the Sacred City
on a Hill. It is, in a limited sense, a philosophy of the Holy Land; it
deals in a masterly way with problems connected with the Jews; it is so
unscholarly as to insist that the scholars who refuse to call the Mosque
of Omar that at all are pedantic; it has a fine chapter on Zionism; it
describes Jerusalem, not so much as a city, but as an impression that
fastened itself on the mind of Mr. Chesterton.

There are some very fine passages in the book that deal with the curious
question of Demonology, that peculiar belief which finds a place in the
New Testament in the story of the Gadarene swine, and who, Chesterton
felt, might still be found at the bottom of the Dead Sea--'sea swine or
four-legged fishes swollen over with evil eyes, grown over with sea
grass for bristles, the ghosts of Gadara.'

One of the most interesting chapters of this book is that which is
entitled 'The Philosophy of Sightseeing.' There is, of course, a
philosophy of everything, of boiling eggs, of race-horses, of the
relations of space and time--in fact, Philosophy is a sort of Harrods,
that sums up anything from a Rolls Royce to a packet of pins.

To some people there must be almost something incongruous in the idea of
sightseeing in the Holy Land, yet it is probable that of the crowds
round the foot of the Cross, on which was enacted the world's greatest
blessing, a great part were idle sightseers who, twenty centuries later,
might have been a bank holiday crowd on Hampstead Heath. Chesterton
found that there was a philosophy in sightseeing; he had been warned
that he would find Jerusalem disappointing, but he did not. He could be
interested in the guide who 'made it very clear that Jesus Christ was
crucified in case any one should suppose that He was beheaded.' He could
see that the 'Christianity of Jerusalem, after a thousand years of
Turkish tyranny, survived even in the sense of dying daily'; fascinating
as Chesterton found Jerusalem, much as he insists that the 'sights' of
the city must be seen in their right perspective, yet he has sympathy
with the man who only 'sees in the distance Jerusalem sitting on the
hill and keeping that vision' lest going further he might understand the
city and weep over it.

              *       *       *       *       *

Chesterton devotes a long and careful chapter to the question of the
Jews, of whom Christ was the chief; but, notwithstanding, thousands of
His so-called followers quite forget this, and scarcely will admit that
the Jew has a right to live. The reason is, no doubt, that the Fourth
Gospel uses the word [Greek: ioudaios] in the sense of those who were
hostile, consequently many entirely orthodox Christians are
anti-Jewists, quite oblivious of the very reasonable request of St. Paul
that in Christ are neither Jew nor Gentile. This is, in brief, the
theological side of the vexed question of Zionism. Chesterton makes it
quite clear that he thinks it desirable that 'Jews should be represented
by Jews, should live in a society of Jews, should be judged by Jews and
ruled by Jews,' which is of course to say that the Jews should be a
nation. But the fact remains, do they wish to be so, and, if they do, is
it necessary to them, or even congenial, that it shall be in Palestine?
It is no way the province of this book to go into this question; it has
been enough to say that it is perfectly evident that Chesterton desires
for the Jew the dignity of being a separate nation.

              *       *       *       *       *

Is there any particular characteristic in this record of Chesterton's
visit to Jerusalem? Is it anything more than an impression of a
wonderful experience, when a great writer left his home in
Buckinghamshire and passed over the sea and the desert to the city that
is older than history and is now new? I do not think that the book can
be called more than a Chestertonian impression of Jerusalem, with an
appreciation of the vexed history of that strange city which is Holy. It
does not forget the problems in connection with Palestine, but it has no
particular claim to having said very much that was new about the New
Jerusalem. Yet it has avoided the obvious: it is not of the type of book
that is read at drawing-room missionary meetings, which are more often
than not written in a surprised style, that the places mentioned in the
Bible are really somewhere.

I almost feel as if this book is something of a guide-book--in fact, it
was inevitable that it should be so. I rather fancy that descriptive
writing is for Chesterton difficult; it is a little bit too descriptive,
which is to say it is not always easy to imagine the scene he is trying
to describe. I am not sure that the Jews will be flattered to be told
that Chesterton thinks they are worthy of being a nation; it is slightly

Yet the New Jerusalem is a book to read, but it is not of the Holy City
that St. John saw in the Revelation; it is of the New Jerusalem of the
twentieth century, which is very imperfect, yet is Holy. It is a book of
a city that was visited by God, Who did not deem Himself too important
to walk in its streets; it is of a city teeming with difficulties; it is
of a city that has felt the iron hand of the conqueror; it is finally
Jerusalem made into a symbol by the hand of Mr. Chesterton.

_Chapter Eleven_


There is a very remarkable fascination about the home life of a great
man whatever branch of activity he may adorn. If he is an archbishop, it
is interesting to know what he looks like when he has exchanged his
leggings for a human dress; if he is a pork millionaire, we like to see
whether he enjoys Chopin; if he is a great writer, the interest of his
home life is intensified. For the tens of thousands who know an author
by his books, the number who know him at home may quite well be measured
by the score.

There is always an idea that a great man is not as others; that he may
quite conceivably eat mustard with mutton, or peas with a spoon; that
his conversation will be of things the ordinary man knows nothing about;
that he is unapproachable; that he is, in short, on a glorified
pedestal. This love of the personal is demonstrated in the absurd wish
people have to know about the private doings of Royalty, it is shown in
the remarkable fact that thousands will hang about a church door to see
the wedding of some one who is of no particular interest beyond the fact
that they are in some way well known; it is again seen in the interest
that people display in those parts of a biography that deal with the
life of the public man in his private surroundings.

When I first knew Chesterton he was living in a flat in Battersea, a
charming place overlooking a green park in front and a mass of black
roofs behind. Here Chesterton lived in the days when he was becoming
famous, when the inhabitants of that part of London began to realize
that they had a great man in their midst, and grew accustomed to seeing
a romantic figure in a cloak and slouch hat hail a hansom and drive off
to Fleet Street.

Later, Chesterton moved to Beaconsfield, a delightful country town,
built in the shape of a cross, on the road from London to Oxford. He has
here a queer kind of house that is mostly doors and passages, and looks
like a very elaborate dolls'-house; it is rather like one of the Four
Beasts, who had eyes all round, except that instead of having eyes all
round it has doors all round; and I have never yet discovered which is
really the front door, for the very good reason that either of the sides
may be the front.

In a very charming essay, Max Beerhobm, one of the best essayists of the
day, gives warning to very eminent men that if they wish to please their
admirers a great deal depends on how they receive those who would pay
them homage. He tells us of how Coventry Patmore paid a visit to Leigh
Hunt and was so overcome by the poet's greeting--'This is a beautiful
world, Mr. Patmore'--that he remembered nothing else of that interview.
I remember one day it so happened that I had to pay a visit to Anthony
Hope. I knocked tremblingly at his door in Gower Street and followed the
trim housemaid into the dining-room. Here I found an oldish man with his
back to me. Turning round at my entrance he said, without any asking who
I was, 'Have a cigarette?' And this is all that I remembered of this

The best way, according to Max Beerbohm, is for the visitor to be
already seated, and for the very eminent man to enter, for 'Let the hero
remember that his coming will seem supernatural to the young man.'

I cannot remember the first time I saw Chesterton, whether he was seated
or whether I was; whether his entrance was like a god or whether he was
sitting on the floor drawing pirates of foreign climes or whether he was
wandering up and down the passage. Chesterton is so remarkable-looking
that any one seeing him cannot fail to be impressed by his splendid
head, his shapely forehead, his eyes that seem to look back over the
forgotten centuries or forward to those yet to come.

If there is one thing that is characteristic of Chesterton, it is that
he always seems genuinely pleased to see you. Many people say they are
pleased to see you, yet at the same time there is the uncomfortable
feeling that they would be much more pleased to see you leaving. This is
not the case with Chesterton: he has the happy advantage of making you
feel that he really is glad that you have come to his house. This is not
so with all great writers. Carlyle, if he liked to see a person, did not
say so; Tennyson did not always trouble to be polite; Swift would
receive his guests with a gloomy moroseness; Dickens was a man of moods;
conversation with Browning was not always easy. Great men do not always
trouble to be polite to smaller ones.

What a wonderful laugh Chesterton has. It is like a clap of thunder that
suddenly startles the echoes in the valley; it is the very soul of
geniality. There is nothing that so lays bare a man's character as his
laugh--it cannot pretend. We can pretend to like; we can pretend to be
pleased; we can pretend to listen; we can't pretend to laugh. Chesterton
laughs because he is amused; he is amused at all the small things, but
he seldom laughs at a thing.

I have often and often sat at his table. He talks incessantly. There is
no subject upon which he has not something worth while to say. His
memory is remarkable; he can quote poet after poet, or compose a poem on
anything that crops up at the table. I do not think it can be said that
Chesterton is a good listener. This is not in any way conceit or
boredom, but is rather that he is always thinking out some new story or
article or poem. Yet he is a good host in the niceties of the table; he
knows if you want salt; he does not forget that wine is the symbol of

It has been said that Chesterton is one of the best conversationalists
of the day. Conversation is a queer thing; so many people talk without
having anything to say; others have a great deal to say and never say
it. Chesterton can undoubtedly talk well; he has a knack of finding
subjects suitable to the company; though he does not talk very much of
things of the day; he is naturally mostly interested in books. Given a
kindred soul the two will talk and laugh by the hour.

Naturally, Chesterton has to pay the price of greatness: he has visitors
who will make any pretence to get into his presence. But many are the
interesting people to be found at his home. I remember one day, some
years ago, when Sir Herbert Tree called to see him. I do not recollect
what they talked about, but the time came for the famous actor to go.
The last I saw of him was the sight of his motor-car disappearing and
Sir Herbert waving a great hat, while Chesterton waved a great stick. I
never saw Tree again. Not long after, the world waved farewell to him
for ever.

One of the most frequent visitors to his home is Mr. Belloc, and it is
said that he always demands beer and bacon. One day it so happened that
Mr. Wells came in about tea-time. He seemed, it is said, gloomy during
the meal, and finally the cause was discovered! Mr. Wells also wanted
beer and bacon. It was forthcoming, and the great novelist was
satisfied. It is at least interesting to know that on one point at least
Belloc and Wells are agreed--that beer and bacon are very excellent

No word of Chesterton's home life would be complete without reference to
his dog Winkle. Winkle was more than a dog, he was an institution; he
had the most polished manners--the more you hurt him the more he wagged
his tail; if you trod on his tail he would almost apologize for being in
the way. He knew his master was a great man; he had a certain dignity,
but was never a snob. But the day came that Winkle died, and was, I am
sure, translated into Abraham's Bosom. Chesterton has now another dog,
but he will never get another Winkle. Such dogs are not found twice. I
am not sure, but I think one day Winkle will greet Chesterton in the
Land that lies the other side of the grave.

              *       *       *       *       *

It is, I think, well known that Chesterton has a great liking for
children. He is often to be seen playing games with them or telling them
fairy stories; he is an optimist, and no optimist can dislike children.
He probably likes children for the very good reason that he is quite
grown up; it is no uncommon thing to see him sitting on the floor
drawing pictures to illustrate his stories. Which reminds me that
Chesterton is a remarkably clever artist. I would solemnly warn any one
who does not like his books defaced not to lend them to Chesterton. He
will not cut them, he will not leave them out in the sun, he will not
scorch them in front of the fire, but he will draw pictures on them. I
have looked through many books at his home--nearly all of them have
sketches in them. I have not the qualifications to speak of his art; I
do not know whether he can be considered a great artist; I do not know
whether it is a pity that he does not do more drawing; I do not know
whether he can really be called an artist in the modern sense at
all--but I do know that at his home there are many indications that he
likes drawing, especially sketches of a fantastic nature.

Chesterton does nearly all his work in his little study, a sanctum
littered with innumerable manuscripts. He, like most authors of the day,
dictates to a secretary, who types what he says. It is, I think, in many
ways a pity that so many authors type their manuscripts; for not only
are they machine-made, they have not the interest that they should have
for posterity. What would the British Museum have lost if all the
manuscripts had been typewritten! Chesterton's written hand is extremely
elegant. At one time I believe he used to write his own manuscripts. The
typewriter is, after all, but one more indication that we live in times
when nothing is done except by some kind of machinery; all the same, I
could wish that even if typewriters are used famous authors would keep
one copy of their writings in their own hand.

It is remarkable the amount of work that Chesterton gets through. He has
masses of correspondence, he has articles to write, books to get ready
for press, and yet he finds time to help in local theatricals, to give
lectures in places as wide apart as Oxford and America (and what is
wider in every way than those two places?), that mean all that is best
in the ancient world and all that is best in the modern. He can also
find time to take a long tour to Palestine to find the New Jerusalem,
that city that Christ wept over, not because it was to be razed to the
ground, but because its inhabitants were fools.

What are the general impressions that a stranger visiting Chesterton
would get? He would, I think, be impressed by his genial kindliness; he
would be amazed by his extraordinary powers of memory and the depths of
his reading; he would be gratified by the interest that Chesterton
displays in him; he would be charmed by the quaintness of his home. That
Chesterton has humour is abundant by his conversation; that he has
pathos is not so apparent. I am not perfectly sure that he can
appreciate the things that make ordinary men sad. It has been said that
he is not concerned with the facts of everyday life; if he is not, it is
because he can see beyond them--he can see that this is a good world,
which makes him a good host; he can look forward across the ages to the
glorious stars that shine in the night sky for those who are optimists,
as Chesterton is, and are great men in their own homes.

_Chapter Twelve_


In a very admirable discussion on the word 'great,' in his study of
Dickens, Chesterton remarks that 'there are a certain number of people
who always think dead men great and live men small.' The tendency is
natural and is entirely worthy of blame. If a man is great when he is
dead, then he was great when he was alive. It is but a re-echo of much
of the folly talked during the war, when we were so credulous as to
believe that every dead soldier was a saint and every live one a hero.
Then, when the war was over, these hero worshippers quietly forgot that
the soldiers had been heroes, put up stone crosses to the dead, and did
little to remove the crosses from the living.

There are a number of quite well meaning people who will say, without
much thought, that Chesterton is a great man, and if you ask them why,
they will answer, 'He is a great writer, he is a great lecturer, he must
be great; look at the times he appears in the Press, look at the wealth
of caricature that is displayed on him.' No doubt these are good reasons
in their way, but they rather indicate that Chesterton is well known in
a popular sense; they are not a true indication that he is great. The
public of to-day is inclined to measure greatness by the number of times
a person appears in the newspapers, it seldom realizes that greatness
is, above all, a moral quality, not a quantity; the fact that a person
is in front of the public eye (very often a blind eye) is no indication
of true greatness. If it was, then of necessity every Prime Minister
would be a great man, every revue actress would be a great woman, every
ordinary person would be small.

It is one of the most difficult things possible to determine what is the
place a writer takes in literature. It does not make the task easier
when the writer is not only alive but is still a comparatively young man
in the height of his powers. A pure and simple biography cannot always
determine with any satisfaction its subject's literary standing.
Critical studies of classic authors do not usually give any preciseness
about the exact niche the subject fills.

Literature is one of the most elastic qualities of the day, of human
activity; it cannot be bound by rules, yet has a more or less artificial
standard, which is, perhaps, an imaginary line which has style on the
one side and lack of style on the other. Yet there is a further
difficulty: it is in no way fair to award an author his place in
literature entirely by his style, nor is it fair to literature to
disregard it.

I have anticipated in earlier chapters some of what must be said in
this, but it is not, I think, out of place to attempt to write of the
literary qualities of Chesterton and of his place in contemporary
literature. With regard to his position in respect of former writers I
must say something, but it would not be wise to give any comment of what
may be the permanent place of Chesterton in the world of books. He has,
I hope, many years of literary output in front of him. It cannot be
ignored that his reception into the Roman Catholic Church may greatly
influence his future writings; it is too soon to make any effort to
predict whether his writings will stand the test of time, whether he
will be popular in a hundred years or whether he will have the neglect
that has attended some of the greatest of authors.

There is a question that must be faced. Has Chesterton a place in
literature at all, if, as is the usual thing, we have to compare him
with contemporary writers, or is it that he has such a unique place that
it is impossible to compare him to any living writer? Probably, although
it is not necessary, it is best to compare Chesterton with some of the
greatest writers of the day, and see why it is that he is worthy of a
place in the foremost rank. There are, at the present day, a great
number of writers who would appear worthy of a foremost place in
literature. Those I have chosen have been selected because, in a sort of
vague way, people couple them with the name of Chesterton. They are, I
think, H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw and Hilaire Belloc.

I do think that all these writers have a unique place in contemporary
literature. Perhaps, of the three, Wells is the greatest, because there
is possibly no greater thing than a scientific prophet who is also a
brilliant novelist. If Belloc and Shaw are smaller men it is because
they deal with smaller matters.

At the present day Chesterton does occupy in contemporary literature a
place that no one else does. He is, in a sense, a Dickens of the
twentieth century; he is something more, he may even be a prophet. Of
course Chesterton has not the enormous following that Dickens had at the
height of his powers, but he has that kind of monumental feeling in the
twentieth century that belonged to Dickens in the nineteenth: he is
typical of this century, being an optimist when ordinary men are
pessimistic. As in the nineteenth century Dickens made common men
realise their greatness when they themselves felt immeasurably small, so
Chesterton makes great men feel small when they are really so.

But in another sense he cannot really be compared to Dickens. Dickens
undoubtedly was a delineator of supreme characters. I do not think it
can be said that any of the characters of Chesterton would ever be known
with the knowledge with which Mr. Pickwick is known. Dickens was not in
any sense an essayist; Chesterton is one in every sense. Dickens was a
man who really cared very much that all kinds of oppression should be
put down; Chesterton, no doubt, cares also, but he rather imagines that
things ordinary people quite rightly call welfare work are but forms of
slavery. If Dickens hated factories it was because he had hateful
experience of them; if Chesterton hates factories it is because he
thinks they destroy family life and the home. I have attempted to
suggest that Dickens and Chesterton are alike as regards their being
monuments of their respective centuries. I have also suggested that they
are extremely unlike. Yet I can think of no writer of the nineteenth
century who, in ideal, is so near to Chesterton as Dickens; but that at
the same time they are also so far apart is but another indication that
to place Chesterton in regard to the past is almost impossible.

One thing that Chesterton is not, is an Eclectic; if he is an original
thinker, it is because he can see that though black is not really white
there is no particular reason why it should not be grey; if Notting Hill
can boast of forty fried fish shops he does not see any reason why it
could fail to produce a Napoleon. If a party of Dons are sitting round a
table discussing how desirable is the elimination of life, he sees that
it is a perfectly good ethic for one of the undergraduates to test the
theory by brandishing a loaded pistol at the warden's head. If, as a
novelist, he is different to all his contemporaries, it is because he
has discovered that the word novel sometimes means something new,
sometimes something original, very often something extremely old.

Yet another difficulty for finding an exact niche for Chesterton lies in
the fact that he is a bit of everything, and, what is more, these bits
are very big and make a large kaleidoscope. He is a theological
professor who is so entirely sensible that the public hardly discovers
the fact; he does not wear a cap and gown, and quote quite easily from
all the Fathers of the ancient Church. He does not apologize for
Christianity by reading Christian books. Rather to learn the Christian
standpoint he discovers the tenets of Rationalism; he writes a
theological philosophy that might be a discussion between Satan and
Christ and puts it into a novel; he writes a dissertation on
Transubstantiation and puts it into a tale of anarchy that is so
untheological that it mentions Leicester Square and lobster mayonnaise;
he is a historian who not only writes history but understands it; he
does not consider that William conquered England, but that England
conquered William; he says the best way to read history is to read it
backwards; he is a historian who does not consider the most important
facts are the dates of kings who lived and died.

It has been said that Chesterton is the finest essayist of the day. It
would be perhaps fairer to say he is like no living essayist; if he is
not a finer essayist than Dean Inge, he is at least as good; he may not
be so academic, but he is as learned; if he has not quite the charm of
Mr. Lucas he is at least more versatile. His essays sparkle with
epigrams, they are full of paradox. He has said that Plato said silly
things and yet was the wonder of the ancient world. He can lament that
H.G. Wells has come to the awful conclusion that two and two are four,
and at the same time be thankful that not even in fairyland can two and
two make five; he can state quite calmly that the weakness of Feminism
is that it drives the woman from the freedom of the home to the slavery
of the world; he can make priggish clergymen, who accuse him of joking
and taking the name of the Lord in vain, bite their words by explaining
that to make a joke of anything is not to take it in vain. As an
essayist, Chesterton stands apart from his contemporaries. Of older
essayists I can think of none who could in any way be said to have a
similarity to Chesterton.

One of the most interesting things about Chesterton is his position as a
poet. I have said, in an earlier chapter, that he might have been the
Poet Laureate. I have ventured to say that if posterity did not place
him among great poets it would be because he had given more attention to
prose. The particular question of Chesterton as a poet opens up a more
general one, which is something in the nature of a problem. Would the
great classic poets of the last century have been as great if they had
not written so much poetry? Had Tennyson written but two long poems; had
Browning never written anything but short lyrics; had Wordsworth been
content to write few poems, provided these had been an indication of the
best work of these particular poets, would posterity have granted them
immortality? Will Chesterton go down to posterity as a poet on account
of his fine achievement in his 'Ballad of the White Horse,' or will
people forget him because he has not written more? I am rather afraid
this may be so. Posterity, it is true, likes quality, but it likes it
better with quantity.

But I feel that I am dealing with what I had said it would be well to
avoid--anything to do with the future of Chesterton. What is
Chesterton's position as a poet to-day? He is, I think, one of the
finest of the day; he has a fine sense of humour in poetry; he has great
powers of recasting scenes of long-forgotten centuries; he has a fine
musical rhythm; but he has not, I think, pathos. I think it is a pity
that he does not write epics on events of the day; he might easily find
the Poet Laureate's silence an inspiration; he might write another great
poem; it might be better than any more novels.

It is difficult to say whether or not Chesterton is a playwright. His
one play was a fine one about a fine subject, but I do not think it had
the qualities that would be popular in an ordinary theatre in London.
There is a certain suggestion of a problem about it which is a little
obscure. We are not sure whether Chesterton is in earnest or joking: it
has not probably sufficient action to suit this century, that wishes
aeroplanes to dash through the house on the stage, or two or three
people to meet with violent deaths in three acts. It is in the nature of
a discussion and might be almost anti-Shavian; it would be absurd to
attempt to place Chesterton among contemporary dramatic authors, but it
is not too much to predict that he might quite easily soon be very near
the front rank.

By his critical studies of Browning, Dickens, and Thackeray, Chesterton
has proved that there was a great deal more to be said about these
classic authors than the critics had seemed to think. Chesterton seldom
agreed with those who had written before. What they had considered
weaknesses he had considered strength; what he had considered weakness
they had considered strength. Possibly no author had been written about
more than Dickens, yet there remained for Chesterton to add much that
was vital. No poet had been more misunderstood than Browning; no poet
had been more attacked for his grotesque style; no critic has written
with the understanding of Browning as has Chesterton. In taking extracts
from Thackeray, Chesterton has shown a fine appreciation of that
novelist's best work.

It is a difficult thing for a great writer to be a great critic. He is
liable to be either condescending or supercilious; he is liable
unconsciously to judge all standards by his own; he is likely to be
rather intolerant of any opinions but his own; it is easier for a great
critic to be a great writer. In the case of Chesterton, because he is a
great and original writer he has a brilliant critical acumen that probes
deep into the minds of other authors and sees what is stored there in a
way that other critics have, perhaps, failed to see, not because they
did not choose to look for it, but rather because, almost without
knowing it, critics who set out to be critics exclusively are liable to
work rather too much by a fixed rule.

It is, I hope, now apparent how difficult it is to say where exactly
Chesterton finds a place in literature. Is it as an essayist? Is it as a
novelist? Is it as a historian? Is it as a critic? If it is as a
novelist, then it is as a writer of peculiar phantasy; if it is as an
essayist, it is as a brilliant controversialist; if it is as a
historian, it is as a unique critic of history; if it is as a critic, it
is as a broad-minded one of not only past great authors but of current

I do not know of any writer who is so difficult to place. Wells can
quite well be a fine novelist and prophet; Bernard Shaw can easily be
called a playwright and a philosopher; Galsworthy is a serious novelist
and a playwright who takes the art with proper regard for its powers of
social redress; Sir James Barrie is a mystical writer with a message.
There are fifty novelists who are interpreters of manners and problems
of the twentieth century. But Chesterton is not like any of these. He is
not in any sense a specialist; he is really a general practitioner with
the hand of a specialist in everything he touches except divorce. In a
word, he is that thing in literature that occurs once or twice in every
century--an epic. He is the laughing, genial writer of the twentieth
century who, in everything he does, earns the highest of all literary
honours--to be unique.

_Chapter Thirteen_


It would be a very interesting problem to try and discover how it is
that Gilbert Keith Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw have come to be
known so familiarly as G.K.C. and G.B.S. If any of my readers can
suggest a solution of this, I hope they will let me know; because, if I
calmly headed this chapter G.K.C. and J.M.B. I do not think that any one
would guess that I was attempting to compare Chesterton to James Matthew
Barrie unless I told them. It would be really quite amusing to do all
comparisons by this initial method; we might find in the _Hibbert
Journal_ an article on the need of Episcopacy headed H.H. Dunelm and
Frank Zanzibar, which would be quite simply the Bishop of Durham and the
Bishop of Zanzibar on Episcopacy; or, for a rest, we might turn to the
_Daily Herald_ and find 'J.R.C. attacks L.G.,' which would be quite
simply that Mr. Clynes did not see eye to eye with the Premier that a
Coalition Government was a national asset.

If we refer to the past, it is not easy to suggest any one who might be
known by initials. Charles Dickens was never known as C.D.; Thackeray,
when he wrote his 'Essay on the Four Georges' was probably not known as
W.M.T. on the Four Georges; but if Chesterton writes a book on America,
the Press affirms that there is a new book on America by G.K.C., or we
pick up a morning paper and find a large headline on 'G.B.S. on
Prisons,' and every one knows who it is. But put a headline, 'Randall on
Divorce,' and it is not seen at once that the Archbishop of Canterbury
has been addressing the Upper House on a matter of grave ecclesiastical

There is a saying about some people being born great, others having that
state thrust upon them, others as having achieved it. There is no doubt
that Chesterton was born to be great, so no doubt was Shaw, but they
went about it in a different way. The public caught hold of the
remarkable personality of Chesterton and scarcely a day passed that the
Press did not either quote him or caricature him; on the other hand,
Shaw caught hold of the public, annoyed its susceptibilities, held it in
supreme contempt, raved at it from the stage and platform, and the
public, amazed at his cleverness, received him as the rude philosopher
who looked a genius, talked like a whirlwind, said that he was greater
than Shakespeare, said he was the Molière of the twentieth century, and
posed until it was expected of him.

But Chesterton does not pose. If he comes to lecture on Cobbett and
talks for three-quarters of an hour on how his hat blew off, it is not a
pose, it is the natural inconsequence of Chesterton on the platform. If
Shaw is invited to a dinner and writes that he does not eat dinner and
does not care to see others doing nothing else, he is posing; but, if
so, it is because he is expected to do so.

On almost every subject Shaw and Chesterton disagree; yet they are both
men who, in some way, attempt to be reformers. Shaw proceeds by satire
and contempt; Chesterton proceeds by originality and good nature, except
on the question of divorce, which makes him very angry, and, as I have
said, uncritical. Shaw chastises the world and is angry; Chesterton
laughs, and, in a genial way, asks what is wrong; and, having found out,
attempts to put things right. Shaw would rather have a new sort of world
with a super-man.

Shaw and Chesterton approach reform from two different ways. Chesterton
suggests them by queer novels and paradoxical essays; Shaw puts his
ideas into the mouthpieces of those who are known as Shavian characters;
he interprets his theories by the Stage, therefore his sermons reach
tens of thousands who would not read him if he preached from a pulpit.
Thus, if he wants to show that there are no rules for getting married,
he puts the problem into a play and wants an extension of divorce;
Chesterton, on the other hand, believes that marriage is Divine and that
divorce is but a superstition. If Shaw believed that the home narrowed
life, was a domestic monarchy, meant a loss of individuality between
husband and wife, Chesterton, far from agreeing to this proposition,
takes the opposite view that it is the home which is large and the world
which is small and narrowing. Probably neither is quite right. For some
people the home is narrowing, for others it is the place that affords
the widest scope; for some the world is narrow, for others the world is
extremely broad--in fact, so broad that they never are able to get free
from its immensity.

With regard to religion, whatever opinions Chesterton may hold--as he is
now a Roman Catholic--they are no longer of interest. Shaw, on the other
hand, is much too elastic a man to imagine for a moment that religion is
a thing that is necessarily bound up with an organization which is
mainly political; he is not so credulous as to believe that the
spiritual can fall vertically to earth because a man kneels before a
bishop and becomes a priest. Rather he had a much better plan. He
started by being an atheist, the best possible foundation for subsequent
theism. From this he became an Immanist, which is that God is in some
way dispersed throughout the earth.

If there is one thing upon which we may say that Shaw and Chesterton are
identical, it is in the strange fact that neither of them has, I think,
ever described an ordinary lover--the sort of person who is nothing of a
biological surprise, the kind of person who woos on a suburban court in
Surbiton or Wimbledon and marries in a hideous red brick church to the
cheerful accompaniment of confetti and the Wedding March. I do not think
either of them can really enter into the ordinary emotions of life. They
could neither of them write, I fancy, a really typical novel--that is, a
tale about the folks who do the conventional things. Chesterton always
sees everything upside down. If the man on Notting Hill sees it as a
bustling area, Chesterton sees it as a place upon which a Napoleon might
fall. Shaw, on the other hand, could not write of ordinary things
because he is usually contemptuous of them. If Chesterton thinks
education is a failure it is because the conventional method irritates
him; Shaw considers that education does not educate a man, it 'merely
moulds him.'

I am not sure that Mr. Skimpole, in his brilliant study of Bernard Shaw,
is quite correct when he says 'the whole case against Chesterton, of
course, is that he is a Romantic.' Why is it a something against him
that he chooses to be an idealist? Because, says Mr. Skimpole, 'he does
not seem to have grasped the fact that the most important difference
between the Real and the Ideal aspects of anything is that while the
Ideal is permanent and unchangeable as an angel, the Real requires an
everlasting circle of changes.' I am rather afraid Mr. Skimpole is
talking through a certain covering that adorns his head. Cannot he see
that very often the ideal is nothing less than the real? It is no case
against Chesterton that he is a Romantic so long as the fact is duly
recognized. If he considers certain institutions are permanent which may
be said to be ideal (for instance, that marriage is a sacrament), he is
just as likely to be as right as is Mr. Shaw when he contends that
marriage must be made to fit the times, even if it be granted it is a
Divine thing.

If Shaw is unable to see that most earthly things have a heavenly
meaning, as Chesterton does, it is so much the worse for Shaw and so
much the better for Chesterton. If Chesterton is a dangerous Romantic
who likes Fairyland, at least Shaw is a dangerous eugenist who wants a
super-man, and I am not sure that the fairies of Chesterton are not more
useful than the ethics of Shaw; there is no doubt that they are less
grown up. If Shaw is a philosopher, he is not one of this Universe; he
is of another that shall be entirely sub-Shavian. If Chesterton is a
philosopher, it is because he can see this universe better upside down
than Shaw understands it the right way up.

In fact, the difference between Shaw and Chesterton may, I think, be
something like this. They are, as I have said, both reformers, but
Chesterton wishes to keep man as he is essentially, and gradually make
him something better. Shaw wants to have done with man and produce a
super-man. In this way Shaw admits the failure of man to rise above his
environment. Chesterton not only thinks he is able to, but tries to
prove it in his writings. Thus, if a man is an atheist he can show that
he is in time capable of becoming a good theist, but Shaw if he allows
some of his characters to be in hell, gets them out of it by attempting
to make them strive for the super-man. For Chesterton, Man is the
Super-Man; for Shaw, the Super-Man is not Man at all.

In fact, this no doubt is the reason that Shaw is really a pessimist and
Chesterton an optimist.

There is, I think, little doubt that Chesterton is a far more important
man than Shaw. He has the facility for getting hold of the things that
matter; he is never ill-natured; he does not make fun of other people.
Much as the writer admires the wit and brilliancy of Shaw, he cannot
help feeling that Shaw is a rather cynical personality; Shaw loves to
laugh at people, he is inclined to make fun of the martyrs. They were
possibly quite mistaken in their enthusiasm, but at least they were
consistent. I do not feel convinced that Shaw would stand in the middle
of Piccadilly Circus and keep his ideals if he knew that it would
involve being eaten by lions that came up Regent Street, as the martyrs
faced them centuries ago in Rome, but I have little doubt that
Chesterton would remain in Piccadilly Circus if he knew that he would be
eaten unless he denied that marriage was a Divine institution.

In a word, Shaw bases his Philosophy and Plays on a contempt for all
existing institutions. Chesterton bases his Writings and Philosophy on
genial good nature and a respect for the things that are important.
Therefore I think that Shaw has not made such a permanent contribution
to thought as Chesterton certainly has; even if it is only in showing
that the Christian religion is reasonable.

_Chapter Fourteen_


There was a time in history when the ancient world searched in vain for
the truth. It produced men of the type of Aristotle, Plato, and
Socrates; they were great philosophers who looked at the world in which
they lived and asked what it meant. Was it material? Was it spiritual?
Was it temporary? Was it eternal? Men were dissatisfied. And about that
time a greater Philosopher came in the wake of a star, and men called
Him Christ.

It is the twentieth century, and the Man the ancient world called Christ
founded the religion which His followers were to take to the ends of the
earth. Yet men are still dissatisfied; philosophers look out of their
high-walled windows and watch the modern world, which goes on; men die
and are forgotten; creeds spring up for a day and pass; writers produce
books, and in their turn pass away.

Of this century Chesterton is one of the great thinkers. It is, I think,
a mistake not to take him seriously. If he is phantastic, there is a
meaning behind his phantasy; if he laughs, the world need not think that
he is frivolous. He is a prophet, and he has honour in his own country.

Chesterton is still a young man; he is young in soul and body. Like
Peter Pan he does not grow up, yet he is a famous man; he has written
great books, he has written fine poems, he has written brilliant essays,
but he has never written a book with an appeal to an unthinking public
that reads to kill thought. I wonder whether Chesterton would write a
'Philosophy for the Unthinking Man'? I think he is the one man of the
day who could do it, and I think it might be his greatest book.

I have attempted in this book to draw a picture of the works of
Chesterton. They are not easy to deal with; they may mean many things. I
have not attempted to forecast the future of Chesterton, strong as the
temptation has been, but I have endeavoured to place before those who
know Chesterton what it is they admire in him; and for those who only
know him as a name, I hope that this book may induce them to read the
most arresting writer of the day, who is known in every country as the
Master of Paradox, which is to say that he is the Master of the Temple
of Understanding.

              *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Note:

   The following typographical errors have been corrected:

      Page 16: A period was added after "period." (keen survey of the
      Dickens period.)

      Page 25: "cricle" changed to "circle." (but mentioned in a small

      Page 36: ' added after "task." (Thackeray's 'most difficult task.')

      Page 42: "Dicken's" changed to "Dickens'." (Had Dickens' life been

      Page 50: ' deleted after "temperament." (French temperament.)

      Page 64: ' deleted after "victors." (astonished the victors.)

      Page 69: " changed to ' after "king." (To be an English king.')

      Page 72: !' added after "charge." ('Spears at the charge!')

      Page 111: "supercillious" changed to "supercilious" (be either
      condescending or supercilious;)

   All other language, spelling, and punctuation has been retained.

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