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G.  K.   CHESTERTON                             II
man, remains to this day a favourite, even though those who
prefer Browning's verse to his arguments have continued
to complain about it over nearly fifty years. Dickens's
protest against the tyrannies of Victorian industrialism was
exactly the protest which he himself was anxious to make.
He wrote the book in 1906. Had he come to it a little later
in life he might have felt irritated by Dickens's theological
weakness, but, as it was, he wrote it just at the time of his
life when his admiration for Dickens was most unqualified.
Chaucer was a subject naturally suited to Chesterton's
sympathy, but the trouble about writing a life of Chaucer
is that we know so very little about him and our bricks have
therefore to be made of such very scanty straw. Un-
doubtedly in many ways the most satisfactory of his bio-
graphies was that of Cobbett. For Chesterton's debt to
Cobbett was immense. It was Cobbett who first loudly
challenged the popular Reformation view of English
history. It is true that Cobbett did it not through any
positive belief in or understanding of the Catholic religion,
to which indeed he never adhered, and what were to
Chesterton the most important things in life were to
Cobbett a closed book. Cobbett's interests were solely
political and social—they were partly to discredit the landed
aristocracy of his own day, and the Established Church,
which battened on it through discrediting its origins. But
it was from Cobbett that Mr. Belloc mainly learnt his view
of English history, and Chesterton learnt it from Mr. Belloc.
Cobbett was, it is true, a great exaggerator, indifferent to
detailed fact, but Chesterton also had an artist's indifference
to pedantry. And, if he admired Cobbett where he was
like him, he admired him equally, by a law of compensation,
where he was most unlike him. Chesterton, though an
enemy of industrialism and a believer in * the rude pea-
santry', was quite practically incompetent whether for
agriculture or for any other manual task. But Cobbett was
a practical farmer, and Chesterton had all the impractical
man's envy and admiration for the practical man. So here