Background and foreground

The great principle of the Zoroastrian philosophy seems to be that the thorn is essential to the rose. Or, to put it more correctly, that the life of man is a chessboard, because chess is a royal game — the great game for the human intellect. And in chess it is necessary, not only that there should be black and white, but that black and white should be equal. There must be a pattern of black and white, and the pattern must be exact.

To all this view of life I should only answer that the chessboard is only a pattern, and therefore cannot be a picture. A black-and-white artist always treats one or other colour as the background. The artist may be scrawling black on white, when he is illustrator in pen-and-ink. He may be scrawling white on black, when he is a schoolboy chalking the schoolmaster’s nose on the blackboard. But the pen-and-ink artist knows that the page is white previous to the arrival of the pen and ink. The wicked schoolboy knows that the blackboard is black. So we, as Christians, should always believe that this is a white world with black spots, not a black world with white spots. I should always believe the good in it was its primary plan. Also, I should always remember that chess came from Persia.

— The Illustrated London News, 31 May 1913.

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Published in: on August 29, 2018 at 8:34 am  Leave a Comment  

“These shapeless enemies have enemies”

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. When I was a child I have stared at the darkness until the whole black bulk of it turned into one negro giant taller than heaven. If there was one star in the sky it only made him a Cyclops. But fairy tales restored my mental health, for next day I read an authentic account of how a negro giant with one eye, of quite equal dimensions, had been baffled by a little boy like myself (of similar inexperience and even lower social status) by means of a sword, some bad riddles, and a brave heart. Sometimes the sea at night seemed as dreadful as any dragon. But then I was acquainted with many youngest sons and little sailors to whom a dragon or two was as simple as the sea.

… At the four corners of a child’s bed stand Perseus and Roland, Sigurd and St. George. If you withdraw the guard of heroes you are not making him rational; you are only leaving him to fight the devils alone.

— Tremendous Trifles (1909).

Published in: on August 22, 2018 at 10:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

“What has happened in English history”

We should think it rather odd if a profiteer had a country house that was called The Cathedral.  We might think it strange if a stockbroker had built a villa and habitually referred to it as a church.  But we can hardly see the preposterous profanity by which one chance rich man after another has been able to commandeer or purchase a house which he still calls an Abbey. It is precisely as if he had gone to live in the parish church; had breakfasted on the altar, or cleaned his teeth in the font. That is the short and sharp summary of what has happened in English history; but few can get it thus foreshortened or in any such sharp outline.

— William Cobbett (1925).

Published in: on August 1, 2018 at 11:29 am  Leave a Comment