“Masters of their own lives”

Self-government arose among men (probably among the primitive men, certainly among the ancients) out of an idea which seems now too simple to be understood. The notion of self-government was not (as many modern friends and foes of it seem to think) the notion that the ordinary citizen is to be consulted as one consults an Encyclopaedia. He is not there to be asked a lot of fancy questions, to see how he answers them. He and his fellows are to be, within reasonable human limits, masters of their own lives. They shall decide whether they shall be men of the oar or the wheel, of the spade or the spear. The men of the valley shall settle whether the valley shall be devastated for coal or covered with corn and vines; the men of the town shall decide whether it shall be hoary with thatches or splendid with spires. Of their own nature and instinct they shall gather under a patriarchal chief or debate in a political market-place. And in case the word “man” be misunderstood, I may remark that in this moral atmosphere, this original soul of self-government, the women always have quite as much influence as the men. But in modern England neither the men nor the women have any influence at all. In this primary matter, the moulding of the landscape, the creation of a mode of life, the people are utterly impotent. They stand and stare at imperial and economic processes going on, as they might stare at the Lord Mayor’s Show.

— A Miscellany of Men (1912).

Published in: on July 30, 2014 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Paying for sunsets

Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.

— Orthodoxy (1913).

Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 7:25 am  Comments (4)  

“Comparatively innocent”

Those who speak scornfully of the ignorance of the mob do not err as to the fact itself; their error is in not seeing that just as a crowd is comparatively ignorant, so a crowd is comparatively innocent. It will have the old and human faults; but it is not likely to specialise in the special faults of that particular society: because the effort of the strong and successful in all ages is to keep the poor out of society. If the higher castes have developed some special moral beauty or grace, as they occasionally do (for instance, mediæval chivalry), it is likely enough, of course, that the mass of men will miss it. But if they have developed some perversion or over-emphasis, as they much more often do (for instance, the Renaissance poisoning), then it will be the tendency of the mass of men to miss that too. The point might be put in many ways; you may say if you will that the poor are always at the tail of the procession, and that whether they are morally worse or better depends on whether humanity as a whole is proceeding towards heaven or hell. When humanity is going to hell, the poor are always nearest to heaven.

— The Victorian Age in Literature (1913).
Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Every star is like a sudden rocket”

Mysticism in its noblest sense, mysticism as it existed in St John, and Plato, and Paracelsus, and Sir Thomas Browne, is not an exceptionally dark and secret thing, but an exceptionally luminous and open thing. It is in reality too clear for most of us to comprehend, and too obvious for most of us to see. Such an utterance as the utterance that “God is Love” does in reality overwhelm us like an immeasurable landscape on a clear day, like the light of an intolerable summer sun. We may call it a dark saying; but we have an inward knowledge all the time that it is we who are dark…

It is remarkable to notice even in daily life how constant is this impression of the essential rationality of mysticism. If we went up up to a man in the street who happened to be standing opposite a lamppost and addressed him playfully with the words, “Whence did this strange object spring? How did this lean Cyclops with the eye of fire start out of unbegotten night?” it may be generally inferred, with every possible allowance for the temperament of the individual, that he would not regard our remarks as particularly cogent and practical. And yet our surprise at the lamppost would be entirely rational; his habit of taking lampposts for granted would be merely a superstition. The power that makes men accept material phenomena of this universe, its cities, civilizations, and solar systems, is merely a vulgar prejudice, like the prejudice that made them accept cock-fights or the Inquisition. It is the mystic to whom every star is like a sudden rocket, every flower an earthquake of the dust, who is the clear-minded man.

Mysticism, or the sense of the mystery of things, is simply the most gigantic form of common-sense.

— The Daily News, 30 August 1901.

Published in: on July 9, 2014 at 11:04 am  Comments (4)  

On the Death of Gertrude Blogg

Be this thing written, e’re I write
The record of the evil time:
That day my soul repented not
One idle hour, one braggart rhyme.

The grass brought up its million spears,
Aye — for the honour of our star,
Write that no thorn or thistledown
Failed me when I went forth to war.

Old tunes of revelry and sport
Dance on my deaf’ning drums of fight,
The hoarded sunlight of spring days
Blazed for my beacon all the night.

After, the days were grey and long,
But for the hour life battled well,
And all the trumpets of her tower
Answered the horns of Azrael.

We fought, although our dearest fell —
We stood, although the planets reeled —
No sullen doubts, no empty days
Can wipe that blazon from our shield.

And yet to me, doubtless to me —
The miracle of time shall come,
My thoughts grow light as thistledown
Once more: but after years in sum

God keep some mark upon my brow,
Though song be loud, though wine be red,
Of one who met Man’s oldest foe
And did not faint till he had fled.

— (1899).

Gertrude Blogg was the sister of Frances Blogg, whom Chesterton married in 1901. Gertrude died on 2 July 1899 after having been struck in the street by a horse-drawn omnibus.

Published in: on July 2, 2014 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment