“The language of eternity”

A man’s soul is as full of voices as a forest; there are ten thousand tongues there like all the tongues of the trees: fancies, follies, memories, madnesses, mysterious fears, and more mysterious hopes.  All the settlement and sane government of life consists in coming to the conclusion that some of those voices have authority and others not.  You may have an impulse to fight your enemy or an impulse to run away from him; a reason to serve your country or a reason to betray it; a good idea for making sweets or a better idea for poisoning them.  The only test I know by which to judge one argument or inspiration from another is ultimately this: that all the noble sentiments of man talk the language of eternity.  When man is doing the three or four things that he was sent on this earth to do, then he speaks like one who shall live for ever.  A man dying for his country does not talk as if local preferences could change.  Leonidas does not say, “In my present mood, I prefer Sparta to Persia.”  William Tell does not remark, “The Swiss civilization, so far as I can see, is superior to the Austrian.”  When men are making commonwealths, they talk in terms of the absolute, and so they do when they are making (however unconsciously) those smaller commonwealths which are called families.  There are in life certain immortal moments, moments that have authority.  Lovers are right to tattoo each other’s skins and cut each other’s names about the world; they do belong to each other in a more awful sense than they know.

The Illustrated London News, 2 July 1910.

Published in: on August 11, 2010 at 9:56 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] in life certain immortal moments, moments that have authority.” The Hebdomadal Chesterton shares The language of eternity, full of G.K.’s trademark wit and profundity, on the topic of identifying the […]


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