The Christian Social Union, Nottingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— (c.1906).

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 6:50 am  Comments (3)  

“Brown frocks”

Morris and the merely aesthetic mediaevalists always indicated that a crowd in the time of Chaucer would have been brightly clad and glittering, compared with a crowd in the time of Queen Victoria. I am not so sure that the real distinction is here. There would be brown frocks of friars in the first scene as well as brown bowlers of clerks in the second. There would be purple plumes of factory girls in the second scene as well as purple lenten vestments in the first. There would be white waistcoats against white ermine; gold watch chains against gold lions. The real difference is this: that the brown earth-color of the monk’s coat was instinctively chosen to express labor and humility, whereas the brown color of the clerk’s hat was not chosen to express anything. The monk did mean to say that he robed himself in dust. I am sure the clerk does not mean to say that he crowns himself with clay. He is not putting dust on his head, as the only diadem of man. Purple, at once rich and somber, does suggest a triumph temporarily eclipsed by a tragedy. But the factory girl does not intend her hat to express a triumph temporarily eclipsed by a tragedy; far from it. White ermine was meant to express moral purity; white waistcoats were not. Gold lions do suggest a flaming magnanimity; gold watch chains do not.

The point is not that we have lost the material hues, but that we have lost the trick of turning them to the best advantage. We are not like children who have lost their paint box and are left alone with a gray lead-pencil. We are like children who have mixed all the colors in the paint-box together and lost the paper of instructions. Even then (I do not deny) one has some fun.

What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

Published in: on February 22, 2012 at 6:15 am  Leave a Comment  

The Evolutionist To His Lady

Why should I vaunt as stars that flame
Thine eyes that see?
God made a million stars that same
Ere he made thee.
Aeon on aeon, great and small
They thronged the skies.
He fused the secrets of them all
Into thine eyes.

Why should I laud as flowers that flush
Thy cheeks that flame?
Long meadows came to blanche and blush
Ere thy face came.
The Eternal Gardener tireless went
Through field and wood
And all their fiery changes blent
Into thy blood.

Why should I praise as shells that dream
Thine ears that hear?
God heaped the sands with shells that gleam
Ere thou wert near.
All Elfin shapes through sands untrod,
Worlds green and blue,
Rough sketches through the book of God
To fashion you.

— (late 1890s).

Published in: on February 15, 2012 at 7:18 am  Leave a Comment  

“As narrow as myself”

The modern mind is forced towards the future by a certain sense of fatigue, not unmixed with terror, with which it regards the past. It is propelled towards the coming time; it is, in the exact words of the popular phrase, knocked into the middle of next week. And the goad which drives it on thus eagerly is not an affectation for futurity. Futurity does not exist, because it is still future. Rather it is a fear of the past; a fear not merely of the evil in the past, but of the good in the past also. The brain breaks down under the unbearable virtue of mankind. There have been so many flaming faiths that we cannot hold; so many harsh heroisms that we cannot imitate; so many great efforts of monumental building or of military glory which seem to us at once sublime and pathetic. The future is a refuge from the fierce competition of our forefathers. The older generation, not the younger, is knocking at our door. It is agreeable to escape, as Henley said, into the Street of By-and-Bye, where stands the Hostelry of Never. It is pleasant to play with children, especially unborn children. The future is a blank wall on which every man can write his own name as large as he likes; the past I find already covered with illegible scribbles, such as Plato, Isaiah, Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, Napoleon. I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity. And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this: that men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.

 — What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

Published in: on February 8, 2012 at 6:55 am  Leave a Comment  

A notable day

An out-of-sequence post today to celebrate this blog’s fifth birthday! During these years we have had 255 posts, which means that only a few weeks, here or there, have been missed. For the record, and for your reading pleasure, the five most popular posts during the lifetime of this blog have been:

My thanks to all the readers of this blog. It would not be nearly as much fun without you. Let’s raise a glass, then, to Chesterton, and to many good years ahead!

Published in: on February 3, 2012 at 8:24 am  Comments (14)  

Glencoe

The star-crowned cliffs seem hinged upon the sky,
The clouds are floating rags across them curled,
They open to us like the gates of God
Cloven in the last great wall of all the world.

I looked, and saw the valley of my soul
Where naked crests fight to achieve the skies,
Where no grain grows nor wine, no fruitful thing,
Only big words and starry blasphemies.

But you have clothed with mercy like a moss
The barren violence of its primal wars,
Sterile although they be and void of rule,
You know my shapeless crags have loved the stars.

How shall I thank you, O courageous heart.
That of this wasteful world you had no fear;
But bade it blossom in clear faith and sent
Your fair flower-feeding rivers: even as here

The peat burns brimming from their cups of stone
Glow brown and blood-red down the vast decline
As if Christ stood on yonder clouded peak
And turned its thousand waters into wine.

— (1905-14).

Published in: on February 1, 2012 at 8:42 am  Leave a Comment