“Strong, humble faces”

You and I, it is to be hoped, do not hold the theory that the highest and most prominent figures in Society are the highest and best specimens of the human race. We are not such desolate pessimists as all that. For certainly if the people who rule England are the best people in England, England is going to the dogs, or, rather, has already gone there. The most gloomy of all possible theories is the theory that the best man wins. We know the man who wins, and if he is the best man we can only express our feelings in the words of a vulgar music-hall song about a wedding, which ran (if I remember right) — “I was the best man, the best man, the best man; Oh! Jerusalem, you ought to have seen the worst!” If Mr. Rockefeller really rose by superior merit, America must be a kind of hell. But I am an optimist, and I believe that evil is frequently victorious; a thought full of peace, comfort, and the possibilities of human affection. We can all love mankind if we remember not to judge them by their leaders. There are some who say that England has lost its last chance, has carried on just too long its shapeless compromises and its cloudy pride. I do not believe it for a moment. England is a million times stronger nation than one would fancy by merely looking at its great men. Do not look at the faces in the illustrated papers; look at the faces in the street. See what a great and reasonable number of them are strong, humble faces, full of humour and hard work, faces with sad eyes and humorous mouths. There are plenty of good people about. Religion says that the good people will be on the top in Heaven; Socialism says that they will be on top in the near future; but nobody in possession of his five wits can pretend that they are on top now; and if they are, the quality of those below them must be somewhat disheartening. True faith has its eye on the unsuccessful; it endures the small human output which is actually exhibited and admired; but it rejoices in the rich and dark treasures of human virtue and valour which have always been neglected. It is even slightly depressed when it thinks of the small good that we have used. But it sings for joy when it thinks of all the good that we have wasted.

The Illustrated London News, 16 November 1907.

Published in: on January 30, 2008 at 12:48 pm  Comments (1)  

“A hundred windows”

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

Autobiography (1935).

Published in: on January 23, 2008 at 1:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

“A thing of clear images”

Imagination is a thing of clear images, and the more a thing becomes vague the less imaginative it is. Similarly, the more a thing becomes wild and lawless the less imaginative it is. To cook a cutlet in a really new way would be an act of imagination. But there is nothing imaginative about eating a cutlet at the end of a string, or eating it at the top of a tree, or catching it in one’s mouth, or consuming it while standing on one leg. Nonsense of this sort is not imaginative for the simple reason that it is infinite.

The Illustrated London News, 24 March 1906.

Published in: on January 16, 2008 at 1:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sight & Sound Spectacular!

This week we have something a little different: a short clip of newsreel footage of Chesterton, followed by a series of excerpts from extant audio recordings of him speaking. The first audio clip was recorded in December 1930 at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass during an American tour, the second comes from a radio address on the BBC, the third from a dinner speech he delivered in Canada sometime in the 1930s, and the fourth is an excerpt of a BBC radio address on the subject of architecture [*]. Enjoy!

My thanks to YouTube member gmdinformation for making these clips available.

[*] The architecture talk can be heard at greater length here.

Published in: on January 9, 2008 at 2:32 pm  Comments (2)  

Honourable satire

There are three distinct classes of great satirists who are also great men — that is to say, three classes of men who can laugh at something without losing their souls. The satirist of the first type is the man who, first of all enjoys himself, and then enjoys his enemies. In this sense he loves his enemy, and by a kind of exaggeration of Christianity he loves his enemy the more the more he becomes an enemy. He has a sort of overwhelming and aggressive happiness in his assertion of anger; his curse is as human as a benediction. Of this type of satire the great example is Rabelais. This is the first typical example of satire, the satire which is voluble, which is violent, which is indecent, but which is not malicious. . .

There is a second type of mind which produces satire with the quality of greatness. That is embodied in the satirist whose passions are released and let go by some intolerable sense of wrong. He is maddened by the sense of men being maddened; his tongue becomes an unruly member, and testifies against all mankind. Such a man was Swift, in whom the saeva indignatio was a bitterness to others, because it was a bitterness to himself. . .

The third type of great satire is that in which the satirist is enabled to rise superior to his victim in the only serious sense which superiority can bear, in that of pitying the sinner and respecting the man even while he satirises both. Such an achievement can be found in a thing like Pope’s “Atticus,” a poem in which the satirist feels that he is satirising the weaknesses which belong specially to literary genius. Consequently he takes a pleasure in pointing out his enemy’s strength before he points out his weakness. That is, perhaps, the highest and most honourable form of satire.

Heretics (1905).

Published in: on January 2, 2008 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment