I just finished a book entitled G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, by Dale Ahlquist. I thought I would share a few thoughts on this fascinating writer with you today.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was a British writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, art critic, and lay theologian. During his life, he produced 80 books, 200 short stories, 4,000 essays, and several plays. His most famous fictional character is the priest-detective Father Brown. His most prominent apologetic work is Orthodoxy.
G. K. Chesterton (as he was called) was a large man: 6’ 4” and close to 300 pounds. He could make fun of his girth. During World War I, a woman asked him why he wasn’t “out at the front.” He replied, “If you go round to the side, you will see that I am.” He also claimed to be one of the most polite men in the country. After all, he said, on a bus he could stand up and give his seat to three ladies.
Chesterton often was draped in a cape and used a walking stick. He wore a crumpled hat and was frequently photographed with a cigar.
At birth, Chesterton was baptized in the Anglican Church, but as a youth he said he was an agnostic. In 1901 he married Frances Blogg who brought him back to the Anglican Church. The couple deeply desired to have children but, despite the medical help of their day, they were unable to conceive. Later, however, they adopted a daughter. Throughout his career, Frances was Gilbert’s literary assistant and manager. In 1922 Chesterton shocked many of his friends by becoming a Roman Catholic. Four years later, his wife followed him into the Catholic Church.
Chesterton not only loved to write, he also loved to debate publicly. George Bernard Shaw was one of his favorite “sparring partners.” Although the two men disagreed on practically everything, they somehow remained close friends. Chesterton also debated with H. G. Wells and Bertrand Russell. One of his closest friends was the writer Hilaire Belloc.
Chesterton made use of not only the printed word, but radio as well. From 1932 until his death he gave 40 radio talks a year, talks that were extremely popular. Chesterton’s writing and speaking are characterized by wit and humor even while discussing serious topics such as government, history, economics, politics, philosophy, art, and theology. He also frequently employed paradox to make a point. For example, he said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” In other words, don’t let perfectionism get in
the way of doing good.
Despite all his virtues, Chesterton had his faults. He has been criticized for being anti-Semitic in some of his writings. He could also be bombastic. But interestingly, the April 2015 issue of The Atlantic ran an article making the case for Chesterton’s canonization.
It seems fitting to conclude this brief description of Chesterton with a few of his memorable quotes. He has so many good ones, I had a hard time selecting these twelve:
1) An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.
2) It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.
3) Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they have become fashions.
4) To be clever enough to get all the money, one must be stupid enough to want it.
5) Love means loving the unlovable—or it is no virtue at all.
6) To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.
7) Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.
8) All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.
9) One can sometimes do good by being the right person in the wrong place.
10) The supreme adventure is being born.
11) The test of all happiness is gratitude.
12) The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried.
Does anything in this reflection stand out for you?
Do any of Chesterton’s quotes touch you? Which one(s) and why?
Do you know any other Chesterton quotes that you would like to share with us today?
In honor of Chesterton’s heritage, I chose a 17th Century Anglican Hymn sung at a 2013 service at Westminster Abbey. As you will see, the royal family is in attendance. Some might find the song “old fashioned” or be annoyed by the gender exclusive language, but I still see beauty in these ancient hymns. The lyrics are not given on the video, but here are the first and final verses:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the king of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for he is your health and salvation!
Come all who hear: now to his altar draw near,
Joining in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in us adore him!
All that has life and breath come now with praises before him.
Let the “Amen” sound from his people again,
Now as we worship before him.
Do you have a response you’d like to share below?