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Full text of "G. K. Chesterton : a critical study"

G-K CHESTERTON 

A CRITIC AL STUDY- BY 

JULIUS WEST 



G. K. CHESTERTON 



UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME: 

W. B. YEATS 
BY FORREST REID 

J. M. SYNGE 
BY P. P. HOWE 

HENRY JAMES 

BY FORD MADOX HUEFFER 

HENRIK IBSEN 

BY R. ELLIS ROBERTS 

THOMAS HARDY 

BY LASCELLES ABEHCROMBIE 

BERNARD SHAW 
BY P. P. HOWE 

WALTER PATER 

BY EDWARD THOMAS 

WALT WHITMAN 

BY BASIL DE SELINCOURI 

SAMUEL BUTLER 
BY GILBERT CANNAN 

A. C. SWINBURNE 
BY EDWARD THOMAS 

GEORGE GISS1NG 
BY FRANK SWINNERTON 

R. L. STEVENSON 
BY FRANK SWINNERTON 

RUDYARD KIPLING 
BY CYRIL FALLS 

WILLIAM MORRIS 
BY JOHN DRINKWATER 

ROBERT BRIDGES 
BY F. E. BRETT YOUNG 

FYODOR DOSTOIEVSKY 

BY J. MlDDLETON MURRY 

MAURICE MAETERLINCK 
BY UNA TAYLOR 






G. K. CHESTERTON 

A CRITICAL STUDY 

BY 

JULIUS WEST 



LONDON 

MARTIN SECKER 

NUMBER FIVE JOHN STREET 

ADELPHI 

MCMXV 



I HAVE to express my gratitude to Messrs. Burns and Gates, 
Messrs. Methuen and Co., and Mr. Martin Seeker for their 
kind permission to quote from works by Mr. G. K. Chesterton 
published by them. I have also to express my qualified 
thanks to Mr. John Lane for his conditional permission to 
quote from books by the same author published by him. 
My thanks are further due, for a similar reason, to Mr. 
Chesterton himself. 



TO 

J. C. SQUIRE 



CONTENTS 

CHARTER PAGE 

I. INTRODUCTORY 11 

II. THE ROMANCER 23 

III. THE MAKER OF MAGIC 59 

IV. THE CRITIC OF LARGE THINGS 76 
V. THE HUMORIST AND THE POET 91 

VI. THE RELIGION OF A DEBATER 109 
VII. THE POLITICIAN WHO COULD NOT 

TELL THE TIME 136 

VIII. A DECADENT OF SORTS 163 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 185 



INTRODUCTORY 

THE habit, to which we are so much addicted, 
of writing books about other people who have 
written books, will probably be a source of 
intense discomfort to its practitioners in the 
twenty-first century. Like the rest of their 
kind, they will pin their ambition to the pos 
sibility of indulging in epigram at the expense 
of their contemporaries. In order to lead up 
to the achievement of this desire they will 
have to work in the nineteenth century and 
the twentieth. Between the two they will 
find an obstacle of some terror. The eighteen 
nineties will lie in their path, blocking the 
way like an unhealthy moat, which some 
myopes might almost mistake for an aquarium. 
All manner of queer fish may be discerned in 
these unclear waters. 

To drop the metaphor, our historians will 
find themselves confronted by a startling 
change. The great Victorians write no longer, 
but are succeeded by eccentrics. There is 

11 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Kipling, undoubtedly the most gifted of them 
all, but not everybody s darling for all that. 
There is that prolific trio of best-sellers, 
Mrs. Humphry Ward, Miss Marie Corelli, and 
Mr. Hall Caine. There is Oscar Wilde, who 
has a vast reputation on the Continent, but 
never succeeded in convincing the British that 
he was much more than a compromise between 
a joke and a smell. There is the whole Yellow 
Book team, who never succeeded in convincing 
anybody. The economic basis of authorship 
had been shaken by the abolition of the three- 
volume novel. The intellectual basis had been 
lulled to sleep by that hotchpotch of conven 
tion and largeness that we call the Victorian 
Era. Literature began to be an effort to ex 
press the inexpressible, resulting in outraged 
grammar and many dots. . . . 

English literature at the end of the last 
century stood in sore need of some of the 
elementary virtues. If obviousness and sim 
plicity are liable to be overdone, they are not 
so deadly in their after-effects as the bizarre 
and the extravagant. The literary movement 
of the eighteen nineties was like a strong 
stimulant given to a patient dying of old age. 
Its results were energetic, but the energy was 
convulsive. We should laugh if we saw a man 
apparently dancing in mid-air until we noticed 

12 



INTRODUCTORY 

the rope about his neck. It is impossible to 
account for the success of the Yellow Book 
school and its congeners save on the assump 
tion that the rope was, generally speaking, 
invisible. 

In this Year of Grace, 1915, we are still too 
close to the eighteen nineties, still too liable 
to be influenced by their ways, to be able to 
speak for posterity and to pronounce the final 
judgment upon those evil years. It is possible 
that the critics of the twenty-first century, as 
they turn over the musty pages of the Yellow 
Book, will ejaculate with feeling : " Good God, 
what a dull time these people must have had ! 
On the whole it is probable that this will be 
their verdict. They will detect the dullness 
behind the mechanical brilliancy of Oscar 
Wilde, and recognize the strange hues of the 
whole ^Esthetic Movement as the garments of 
men who could not, or would not see. There 
is really no rational alternative before our 
critics of the next century ; if the men of the 
eighteen nineties, and the queer things they 
gave us, were not the products of an intense 
boredom, if, in strict point of fact, Wilde, 
Beardsley, Davidson, Hankin, Dowson, and 
Lionel Johnson were men who rollicked in the 
warm sunshine of the late Victorian period, 
then the suicide, drunkenness and vice with 

13 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

which they were afflicted is surely the strangest 
phenomenon in the history of human nature. 
To many people, those years actually were 
dull. 

The years from 1885 to 1898 were like the hours of 
afternoon in a rich house with large rooms ; the 
hours before teatime. They believed in nothing 
except good manners ; and the essence of good 
manners is to conceal a yawn. A yawn may be 
denned as a silent yell. 

So says Chesterton, yawning prodigiously. 

One may even go farther, and declare that 
in those dark days a yawn was the true sign 
of intelligence. It is no mere coincidence that 
the two cleverest literary debutants of that 
last decade, Mr. Max Beerbohm and the sub 
ject of this essay, both stepped on the stage 
making a pretty exhibition of boredom. When 
the first of these published, in 1896, being 
then twenty-four years old, his Works of Max 
Beerbohm he murmured in the preface, I 
shall write no more. Already I begin to feel 
myself a trifle outmoded. . . . Younger men, 
with months of activity before them . . . have 
pressed forward . . . Cedo junioribus" 

So too, when Chesterton produced his first 
book, four years later, he called it Greybeards 
at Play : Literature and Art for Old Gentlemen, 
and the dedication contained this verse : 

14 



INTRODUCTORY 

Now we are old and wise and grey, 

And shaky at the knees ; 
Now is the true time to delight 

In picture books like these. 

The joke would have been pointless in any 
other age. In 1900, directed against the 
crapulous exoticism of contemporary litera 
ture, it was an antidote, childhood was being 
used as a medicine against an assumed attack 
of second childhood. The attack began with 
nonsense rhymes and pictures. It was a com 
plete success from the very first. There is this 
important difference between the writer of 
nonsense verses and their illustrator ; the 
former must let himself go as much as he can, 
the latter must hold himself in. In Greybeards 
at Play, Chesterton took the bit between his 
teeth, and bolted faster than Edward Lear had 
ever done. The antitheses of such verses as 
the following are irresistible : 

For me, as Mr. Wordsworth says, 

The duties shine like stars ; 
I formed my uncle s character, 

Decreasing his cigars. 
Or 

The Shopmen, when their souls were still, 

Declined to open shops 
And cooks recorded frames of mind, 

In sad and subtle chops. 

The drawings which accompanied these gems, 
it may be added, were such as the verses 

15 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

deserved. They exhibit a joyous inconsistency, 
the disproportion which is the essence of 
parody combined with the accuracy which is 
the sine qua non of satire. 

About a month after Chesterton had pro 
duced his statement of his extreme senility 
(the actual words of the affidavit are 

I am, I think I have remarked, [he had not], 
Terrifically old.) 

he published another little book, The Wild 
Knight and Other Poems, as evidence of his 
youth. For some years past he had occasion 
ally written more or less topical verses which 
appeared in The Outlook and the defunct 
Speaker. Greybeards at Play was, after all, 
merely an elaborate sneer at the boredom of 
a decade ; the second book was a more definite 
attack upon some points of its creeds and an 
assertion of the principles which mattered 
most. 

There is one sin : to call a green leaf grey, 
Whereat the sun in heaven shuddereth. 

There is one blasphemy : for death to pray, 
For God alone knoweth the praise of death. 

Or again (The World s Lover) 

I stood and spoke a blasphemy 

" Behold the summer leaves are green." 

It was a defence of reality, crying for ven 
geance upon the realists. The word realism 

16 



INTRODUCTORY 

had come to be the trade-mark of Zola and 
his followers, especially of Mr. George Moore, 
who made a sacrifice of nine obvious, clean 
and unsinkable aspects of life so as to concen 
trate upon the submersible tenth. Chesterton 
came out with his defence of the common man, 
of the streets 

Where shift in strange democracy 
The million masks of God, 

the grass, and all the little things of life, 
things in general, for our subject, alone 
among modern poets, is not afraid to use the 
word. If on one occasion he can merely 

. . . feel vaguely thankful to the vast 
Stupidity of things, 

on another he will speak of 

The whole divine democracy of things, 

a line which is a challenge to the unbeliever, 
a statement of a political creed which is the 
outgrowth of a religious faith. 

The same year Chesterton formally stepped 
into the ranks of journalism and joined the 
staff of The Daily News. He had scribbled 
poems since he had been a boy at St. Paul s 
School. In the years following he had watched 
other people working at the Slade, while he 
had gone on scribbling. Then he had begun 
to do little odd jobs of art criticism and 
B 17 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

reviewing for The Bookman and put in occa 
sional appearances in the statelier columns of 
The Speaker. Then came the Boer War, which 
made G. K. Chesterton lose his temper but 
find his soul. In 1900 The Daily News passed 
into new hands the hands of G.K.C. s friends. 
And until 1913, when the causes he had come 
to uphold were just diametrically opposed to 
the causes the victorious Liberal Party had 
adopted, every Saturday morning s issue of 
that paper contained an article by him, while 
often enough there appeared signed reviews 
and poems. The situation was absurd enough. 
The Daily News was the organ of Noncon 
formists, and G.K.C. preached orthodoxy to 
them. It advocated temperance, and G.K.C. 
advocated beer. At first this was sufficiently 
amusing, and nobody minded much. But 
before Chesterton severed his connection with 
the paper, its readers had come to expect a 
weekly article that almost invariably con 
tained an attack upon one of their pet beliefs, 
and often enough had to be corrected by a 
leader on the same page. But the Chesterton 
of 1900 was a spokesman of the Liberalism of 
his day, independent, net the intractable 
monster who scoffed, a few years later, at all 
the parties in the State. 

At this point one is reminded of Watts-Dun- 

18 



INTRODUCTORY 

ton s definition of the two kinds of humour in 
The Renascence of Wonder : " While in the 
case of relative humour that which amuses the 
humorist is the incongruity of some departure 
from the laws of convention, in the case of 
absolute humour it is the incongruity of some 
departure from the normal as fixed by nature 
herself." We have our doubts as to the 
general application of this definition : but it 
applies so well to Chesterton that it might 
almost have come off his study walls. What 
made a series of more than six hundred articles 
by him acceptable to The Daily News was just 
the skilful handling of " the laws of conven 
tion," and the normal as fixed by nature 
herself." On the theory enunciated by Watts- 
Dunton, everything except the perfect average 
is absolutely funny, and the perfect average, 
of course, is generally an incommensurable 
quantity. Chesterton carefully made it his 
business to present the eccentricity I use the 
word in its literal sense of most things, and 
the humour followed in accordance with the 
above definition. The method was simple. 
Chesterton invented some grotesque situation, 
some hypothesis which was glaringly absurd. 
He then placed it in an abrupt juxtaposition 
with the normal, instead of working from the 
normal to the actual, in the usual manner. 

19 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Just as the reader was beginning to protest 
against the reversal of his accustomed values, 
G.K.C. would strip the grotesque of a few 
inessentials, and, lo ! a parable. A few strokes 
of irony and wit, an epigram or two infallibly 
placed where it would distract attention from 
a weak point in the argument, and the thing 
was complete. By such means Chesterton 
developed the use of a veritable Excalibur of 
controversy, a tool of great might in political 
journalism. These methods, pursued a few 
years longer, taught him a craftsmanship he 
could employ for purely romantic ends. How 
he employed it, and the opinions which he 
sought to uphold by its means will be the 
subjects of the following chapters. Chesterton 
sallied forth like a Crusader against the politi 
cal and literary Turks who had unjustly come 
into possession of a part of the heritage of a 
Christian people. We must not forget that 
the leading characteristic of a Crusader is his 
power of invigorating, which he applies im 
partially to virtues and to vices. There is a 
great difference between a Crusader and a 
Christian, which is not commonly realized. 
The latter attempts to show his love for his 
enemy by abolishing his unchristianness, the 
former by abolishing him altogether. Although 
the two methods are apt to give curiously 

20 



INTRODUCTORY 

similar results, the distinction between a 
Crusader and a Christian is radical and will be 
considered in greater detail in the course of 
this study. This study does not profess to be 
biographical, and only the essential facts of 
Chesterton s life need be given here. These 
are, that he was born in London in 1873, is the 
son of a West London estate agent who is also 
an artist and a children s poet in a small but 
charming way, is married and has children. 
Perhaps it is more necessary to record the fact 
that he is greatly read by the youth of his 
day, that he comes in for much amused toler 
ance, that, generally speaking, he is not recog 
nized as a great or courageous thinker, even 
by those people who understand his views 
well enough to dissent from them entirely, and 
that he is regarded less as a stylist, than as the 
owner of a trick of style. These are the false 
beliefs that I seek to combat. The last may 
be disposed of summarily. When an author s 
style is completely sincere, and completely 
part of him, it has this characteristic ; it is 
almost impossible to imitate. Nobody has 
ever successfully parodied Shakespeare, for 
example ; there are not even any good paro 
dies of Mr. Shaw. And Chesterton remains 
unparodied ; even Mr. Max Beerbohm s effort 
in A Christmas Garland rings false. His style 

21 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

is individual. He has not " played the sedulous 
ape." 

But, on the other hand, it is not proposed 
to acquit Chesterton of all the charges brought 
against him. The average human being is 
partly a prig and partly a saint ; and some 
times men are so glad to get rid of a prig that 
they are ready to call him a saint Simon 
Sty lit es, for example. And it is not suggested 
that the author of the remark, " There are 
only three things that women do not under 
stand. They are Liberty, Equality, Frater 
nity," is not a prig, for a demonstration that 
he is a complete gentleman would obviously 
leave other matters of importance incon 
veniently crowded out. We are confronted 
with a figure of some significance in these 
times. He represents what has been called 
in other spheres than his " the anti-intellec- 
tualist reaction." We must answer the ques 
tions ; to what extent does he represent mere 
unqualified reaction ? What are his qualifi 
cations as a craftsman ? What, after all, has 
he done ? 

And we begin with his romances. 



22 



II 

THE ROMANCER 

IN spite of Chesterton s liberal production of 
books, it is not altogether simple to classify 
them into " periods," in the manner beloved 
of the critic, nor even to sort them out accord 
ing to subjects. G.K.C. can (and generally 
does) inscribe an Essay on the Nature of 
Religion into his novels, together with other 
confusing ingredients to such an extent that 
most readers would consider it pure pedantry 
on the part of anybody to insist that a Ches- 
tertonian romance need differ appreciably from 
a Chestertonian essay, poem, or criticism. That 
a book by G.K.C. should describe itself as a 
novel means little more than that its original 
purchasing price was four shillings and six 
pence. It might also contain passages of love, 
hate, and other human emotions, but then again, 
it might not. But one thing it would contain, 
and that is war. G.K.C. would be pugnacious, 
even when there was nothing to fight. His 
characters would wage their wars, even when 

23 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

the bone of contention mattered as little as 
the handle of an old toothbrush. That, we 
should say, is the first factor in the formula 
of the Chestertonian romance and all the rest 
are the inventor s secret. Imprimis, a body 
of men and an idea, and the rest must follow, 
if only the idea be big enough for a man to 
fight about, or if need be, even to make him 
self ridiculous about. 

In The Napoleon of Notting Hill we have this 
view of romance stated in a manner entirely 
typical of its author. King Auberon and the 
Provost of Notting Hill, Adam Wayne, are 
speaking. The latter says : 

" I know of a magic wand, but it is a wand that 
only one or two may rightly use, and only seldom. 
It is a fairy wand of great fear, stronger than those 
who use it often frightful, often wicked to use. But 
whatever is touched with it is never again wholly 
common ; whatever is touched with it takes a magic 
from outside the world. If I touch, with this fairy 
wand, the railways and the roads of Notting Hill, 
men will love them, and be afraid of them for ever." 

" What the devil are you talking about ? " asked 
the King. 

" It has made mean landscapes magnificent, and 
hovels outlast cathedrals," went on the madman. 
" Why should it not make lamp-posts fairer than 
Greek lamps, and an omnibus-ride like a painted 
ship ? The touch of it is the finger of a strange 
perfection." 

24 



THE ROMANCER 

" What is your wand ? cried the King, im 
patiently. 

" There it is," said Wayne ; and pointed to the 
floor, where his sword lay flat and shining. 

If all the dragons of old romance were looked 
upon the fiction of our day, the result, one 
would imagine, would be something like that 
of a Chestertonian novel. But the dragons 
are dead and converted into poor fossil ich- 
thyosauruses, incapable of biting the timidest 
damsel or the most corpulent knight that ever 
came out of the Stock Exchange. That is the 
tragedy of G.K.C. s ideas, but it is also his 
opportunity. " Man is a creature who lives 
not upon bread alone, but principally by 
catch- words," says Stevenson. Give me my 
dragons," says G.K.C. in effect, " and I will 
give you your catch- words. You may have 
them in any one of a hundred different ways. 
I will drop them on you when you least expect 
them, and their disguises will outrange all 
those known to Scotland Yard and to Drury 
Lane combined. You may have catastrophes 
and comets and camels, if you will, but you 
will certainly have your catch- words." 

The first of Chesterton s novels, in order of 
their publication, is The Napoleon of Notting 
Hill (1904). This is extravagance itself; 
fiction in the sense only that the events never 

25 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

happened and never could have happened. 
The scene is placed in London, the time, about 
A.D. 1984. " This ere progress, it keeps on 
goin on," somebody remarks in one of the 
novels of Mr. H. G. Wells. But it never goes 
on as the prophets said it would, and conse 
quently England in those days does not greatly 
differ from the England of to-day. There have 
been changes, of course. Kings are now chosen 
in alphabetical rotation, and the choice falls 
upon a civil servant, Auberon Quin by name. 
Now Quin has a sense of humour, of absolute 
humour, as the Watts-Dunton definition already 
cited would have it called. He has two bosom 
friends who are also civil servants and whose 
humour is of the official variety, and whose 
outlook upon life is that of a Times leader. 
Quin s first official act is the publication of a 
proclamation ordering every London borough 
to build itself city walls, with gates to be closed 
at sunset, and to become possessed of Provosts 
in mediaeval attire, with guards of halberdiers. 
From his throne he attends to some of the 
picturesque details of the scheme, and enjoys 
the joke in silence. But after a few years of 
this a young man named Adam Wayne be 
comes Provost of Notting Hill, and to him his 
borough, and more especially the little street 
in which he has spent his life, are things of 

26 



THE ROMANCER 

immense importance. Rather than allow that 
street to make way for a new thoroughfare, 
Wayne rallies his halberdiers to the defence 
of their borough. The Provosts of North 
Kensington and South Kensington, of West 
Kensington and Bayswater, rally their guards 
too, and attack Notting Hill, purposing to 
clear Wayne out of the way and to break down 
the offending street. Wayne is surrounded at 
night but converts defeat into victory by 
seizing the offices of a Gas Company and turn 
ing off the street lights. The next day he is 
besieged in his own street. By a sudden sortie 
he and his army escape to Campden Hill. 
Here a great battle rages for many hours, while 
one of the opposing Provosts gathers a large 
army for a final attack. At last Wayne and 
the remnants of his men are hopelessly out 
numbered, but once more he turns defeat into 
victory. He threatens, unless the opposing 
forces instantly surrender, to open the great 
reservoir and flood the whole of Notting Hill. 
The allied generals surrender, and the Empire 
of Notting Hill comes into being. Twenty 
years later the spirit of Adam Wayne has gone 
beyond his own city walls. London is a wild 
romance, a mass of cities filled with citizens 
of great pride. But the Empire, which has 
been the Nazareth of the new idea, has waxed 

27 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

fat and kicked. In righteous anger the other 
boroughs attack it, and win, because their 
cause is just. King Auberon, a recruit in 
Wayne s army, falls with his leader in the 
great battle of Kensington Gardens. But they 
recover in the morning. 

It was all a joke," says the King in apology. 
" No," says Wayne ; " we are two lobes of the same 
brain . . . you, the humorist ... I, the fanatic. 
. . . You have a halberd and I have a sword, let us 
start our wanderings over the world. For we are its 
two essentials." 

So ends the story. 

Consider the preposterous elements of the 
book. A London with blue horse- buses. 
Bloodthirsty battles chiefly fought with hal 
berds. A King who acts as a war correspon 
dent and parodies G. W. Stevens. It is pre 
posterous because it is romantic and we are 
not used to romance. But to Chaucer let us 
say it would have appeared preposterous 
because he could not have realized the initial 
premises. Before such a book the average 
reader is helpless. His scale of values is 
knocked out of working order by the very first 
page, almost by the very first sentence. 
(" The human race, to which so many of my 
readers belong, has been playing at children s 
games from the beginning, and will probably 

28 



THE ROMANCER 

do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the 
few people who grow up.") The absence of a 
love affair will deprive him of the only " human 
interest he can be really sure of. The Ches- 
tertonian idiom, above all, will soon lead him 
to expect nothing, because he can never get 
any idea of what he is to receive, and will 
bring him to a proper submissiveness. The 
later stages are simple. The reader will wonder 
why it never before occurred to him that area- 
railings are very like spears, and that a distant 
tramcar may at night distinctly resemble a 
dragon. He may travel far, once his imagina 
tion has been started on these lines. When 
romantic possibilities have once shed a glow 
on the offices of the Gas Light and Coke Com 
pany and on the erections of the Metropolitan 
Water Board, the rest of life may well seem 
filled with wonder and wild desires. 

Chesterton may be held to have invented a 
new species of detective story the sort that 
has no crime, no criminal, and a detective 
whose processes are transcendental. The Club 
of Queer Trades is the first batch of such stories. 
The Man who was Thursday is another specimen 
of some length. More recently, Chesterton has 
repeated the type in some of the Father Brown 
stories. In The Club of Queer Trades, the trans 
cendental detective is Basil Grant, to describe 

29 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

whom with accuracy is difficult, because of 
his author s inconsistencies. Basil Grant, for 
instance, is " a man who scarcely stirred out 
of his attic," yet it would appear elsewhere 
that he walked abroad often enough. The 
essentials of this unprecedented detective are, 
however, sufficiently tangible. He had been a 
K.C. and a judge. He had left the Bench 
because it annoyed him, and because he held 
the very human but not legitimate belief that 
some criminals would be better off with a trip 
to the seaside than with a sentence of imprison 
ment. After his retirement from public life 
he stuck to his old trade as the judge of a 
Voluntary Criminal Court. " My criminals 
were tried for the faults which really make 
social life impossible. They were tried before 
me for selfishness, or for an impossible vanity, 
or for scandal-mongering, or for stinginess to 
guests or dependents." It is regrettable that 
Chesterton does not grant us a glimpse of this 
fascinating tribunal at work. However, it is 
Grant s job, on the strength of which he becomes 
the president and founder of the C.Q.T. Club 
of Queer Trades. Among the members of this 
Club are a gentleman who runs an Adventure 
and Romance Agency for supplying thrills to 
the bourgeois, two Professional Detainers, and 
an Agent for Arboreal Villas, who lets off a 

30 



THE ROMANCER 

variety of birds nest. The way in which these 
people go about their curious tasks invariably 
suggests a crime to Rupert Grant, Basil s 
amateur detective brother, whereupon Basil 
has to intervene to put matters right. The 
author does not appear to have been struck 
by the inconsistency of setting Basil to work 
to ferret out the doings of his fellow club- 
members. The book is, in fact, full of joyous 
inconsistencies. The Agent for Arboreal Villas 
is clearly unqualified for the membership of 
the Club. Professor Chadd has no business 
there either. He is elected on the strength of 
having invented a language expressed by 
dancing, but it appears that he is really an 
employee in the Asiatic MSS. Department 
of the British Museum. Things are extremely 
absurd in The Eccentric Seclusion of the Old 
Lady. At the instigation of Rupert, who has 
heard sighs of pain coming out of a South 
Kensington basement, Basil, Rupert, and the 
man who tells the story, break into the house 
and violently assault those whom they meet. 

Basil sprang up with dancing eyes, and with three 
blows like battering-rams knocked the footman into 
a cocked hat. Then he sprang on top of Burrows, 
with one antimacassar in his hand and another in his 
teeth, and bound him hand and foot almost before he 
knew clearly that his head had struck the floor. Then 
Basil sprang at Greenwood . . . etc. etc. 

31 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

There is a good deal more like this. Having 
taken the citadel and captured the defenders 
(as Csesar might say), Basil and company reach 
the sighing lady of the basement. But she 
refuses to be released. Whereupon Basil 
explains his own queer trade, and that the 
lady is voluntarily undergoing a sentence for 
backbiting. No explanation is vouchsafed of 
the strange behaviour of Basil Grant in attack 
ing men who, as he knew, were doing nothing 
they should not. Presumably it was due to 
a Chestertonian theory that there should be 
at least one good physical fight in each book. 

It will be seen that The Club of Queer Trades 
tends to curl up somewhat (quite literally, in 
the sense that the end comes almost where the 
beginning ought to be) when it receives heavy 
and serious treatment. I should therefore 
explain that this serious treatment has been 
given under protest, and that its primary 
intention has been to deal with those well- 
meaning critics who believe that Chesterton 
can write fiction, in the ordinary sense of the 
word. His own excellent definition of ficti 
tious narrative (in The Victorian Age in Litera 
ture) is that essentially " the story is told . . . 
for the sake of some study of the difference 
between human beings." This alone is enough 
to exculpate him of the charge of writing 

32 



THE ROMANCER 

novels. The Chestertonian short story is also 
in its way unique. If we applied the methods 
of the Higher Criticism to the story just 
described, we might base all manner of odd 
theories upon the defeat (inter olios) of 
Burrows, a big and burly youth, by Basil 
Grant, aged sixty at the very least, and armed 
with antimacassars. But there is no necessity. 
If Chesterton invents a fantastic world, full of 

V 

fantastic people who speak Chestertonese, 
then he is quite entitled to waive any trifling 
conventions which hinder the liberty of his 
subjects. As already pointed out, such is his 
humour. The only disadvantage, as some 
body once complained of the Arabian Nights, 
is that one is apt to lose one s interest in a 
hero who is liable at any moment to turn into 
a camel. None of Chesterton s heroes do, as a 
matter of fact, become camels, but I would 
nevertheless strongly advise any young woman 
about to marry one of them to take out an 
insurance policy against unforeseen trans 
formations. 

Although it appears that a few reviewers 
went to the length of reading the whole of 
The Man who was Thursday (1908), it is obvious 
by their subsequent guesswork that they did 
not notice the second part of the title, which 
is, very simply, A Nightmare. The story takes 
c 33 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

its name from the Supreme Council of Anar 
chists, which has seven members, named after 
the days of the week. Sunday is the Chairman. 
The others, one after the other, turn out to be 
detectives. Syme, the nearest approach to the 
what might be called the hero, is a poet whom 
mysterious hands thrust into an Anarchists 
meeting, at which he is elected to fill the 
vacancy caused by the death of last Thursday. 
A little earlier other mysterious hands had 
taken him into a dark room in Scotland Yard 
where the voice of an unseen man had told him 
that henceforth he was a member of the anti- 
anarchist corps, a new body which was to 
deal with the new anarchists not the com 
paratively harmless people who threw bombs, 
but the intellectual anarchist. We say that 
the most dangerous criminal now is the en 
tirely lawless modern philosopher," somebody 
explains to him. The bewildered Syme walks 
straight into further bewilderments, as, one 
after the other, the week-days of the committee 
are revealed. But who is Sunday ? Chesterton 
makes no reply. It was he who in a darkened 
room of Scotland Yard had enrolled the 
detectives. He is the Nightmare of the story. 
The first few chapters are perfectly straight 
forward, and lifelike to the extent of describing 
personal details in a somewhat exceptional 

34 



THE ROMANCER 

manner for Chesterton. But, gradually, wilder 
and wilder things begin to happen until, at 
last, Syme wakes up. 

The trouble about The Man who was Thurs 
day is not its incomprehensibility, but its 
author s gradual decline of interest in the 
book as it lengthened out. It begins excel 
lently. There is real humour and a good deal 
of it in the earlier stages of Syme. And there 
are passages like this one on the " lawless 
modern philosopher 



55 



Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are 
essentially moral men ; my heart goes out to them. 
. . . Thieves respect property. They merely wish 
the property to become their property that they may 
more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike 
property as property ; they wish to destroy the very 
idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect 
marriage, or they would not go through the highly 
ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy. 
But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. 

But his amiable flow of paradox soon runs out. 
The end of the book is just a wild whirl, a 
nightmare with a touch of the cinematograph. 
People chase one another, in one instance they 
quite literally chase themselves. And the end 
ing has all the effect of a damaged film that 
cannot be stopped, on the large blank spaces 
of which some idiot has been drawing absurd 

35 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

pictures which appear on the screen, to the 
confusion of the story. One remembers the 
immense and dominating figure of Sunday, 
only because the description of him reads very 
much like a description of Chesterton himself. 
But if the person is recognizable, the person 
ality remains deliberately incomprehensible. 
He is just an outline in space, who rode down 
Albany Street on an elephant abducted from 
the Zoological Gardens, and who spoke sadly 
to his guests when they had run their last race 
against him. 

Until recent years the word mysticism was 
sufficiently true to its derivation to imply 
mystery, the relation of God to man. But 
since the cheaper sort of journalist seized hold 
of the unhappy word, its demoralization has 
been complete. It now indicates, generally 
speaking, an intellectual defect which ex 
presses itself in a literary quality one can only 
call woolliness. There is a genuine mysticism, 
expressed in Blake s lines : 

To see the world in a grain of sand 
And a Heaven in a wild flower, 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour. 

And there is a spurious mysticism, meaning 
less rubbish of which Rossetti s Sister Helen 

36 



THE ROMANCER 

is a specimen. What could be more idiotic 
than the verse : 

" He has made a sign and called Halloo ! 
Sister Helen, 

And he says that he would speak with you." 

"Oh tell him I fear the frozen dew, 
Little brother." 
(0 Mother, Mary Mother, 
Why laughs she thus between Hell and Heaven ?) 

The trouble about the latter variety is its 
extreme simplicity. Anybody with the gift of 
being able to make lines scan and rhyme can 
produce similar effects in a similar way. Hence 
the enormous temptation exercised by this 
form of mysticism gone wrong. There is a 
naughty little story of a little girl, relating to 
her mother the mishaps of the family coal 
merchant, as seen from the dining-room win 
dow. He slipped on a piece of orange-peel, 
the child had explained. " And what happened 
then ? " Why, mummy, he sat down on the 
pavement and talked about God." Chesterton 
(and he is not alone in this respect) behaves 
exactly like this coal-heaver. When he is at 
a loss, he talks about God. In each case one 
is given to suspect that the invocation is due 
to a temporarily overworked imagination. 

This leads us to The Ball and the Cross (1906). 
In The Man who was Thursday, when the 

37 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

author had tired of his story, he brought in 
the universe at large. But its successor is 
dominated by God, and discussions on him by 
beings celestial, terrestrial, and merely infernal. 
And yet The Ball and the Cross is in many 
respects Chesterton s greatest novel. The first 
few chapters are things of joy. There is much 
said in them about religion, but it is all sincere 
and bracing. The first chapter consists, in 
the main, of a dialogue on religion, between 
Professor Lucifer, the inventor and the driver 
of an eccentric airship, and Father Michael, a 
theologian acquired by the Professor in Western 
Bulgaria. As the airship dives into the ball 
and the cross of Saint Paul s Cathedral, its 
passengers naturally find themselves taking a 
deep interest in the cross, considered as symbol 
and anchor. Lucifer plumps for the ball, the 
symbol of all that is rational and united. The 
cross 

" is the conflict of two hostile lines, of irreconcilable 
direction. . . . The very shape of it is a contradiction 
in terms." Michael replies, " But we like contra 
dictions in terms. Man is a contradiction in terms ; 
he is a beast whose superiority to other beasts consists 
in having fallen." 

Defeated on points, Lucifer leaves the Father 
clinging literally to the cross and flies away. 
Michael meets a policeman on the upper gallery 

38 



THE ROMANCER 

and is conducted downwards. The scene 
changes to Ludgate Circus, but Michael is no 
longer in the centre of it. A Scot named Turn- 
bull keeps a shop here, apparently in the 
endeavour to counterbalance the influence of 
St. Paul s across the way. He is an atheist, 
selling atheist literature, editing an atheist 
paper. Another Scot arrives, young Evan 
Maclan, straight from the Highlands. Unlike 
the habitual Londoner, Maclan takes the little 
shop seriously. In its window he sees a copy 
of The Atheist, the leading article of which 
contains an insult to the Virgin Mary. Maclan 
thereupon puts his stick through the window. 
Turnbull comes out, there is a scuffle, and 
both are arrested and taken before a Dicken- 
sian magistrate. The sketch of Mr. Cumber 
land Vane is very pleasing : it is clear that the 
author knew what he was copying. Lord 
Melbourne is alleged to have said, " No one 
has more respect for the Christian religion 
than I have ; but really, when it comes to in 
truding it into private life ..." Mr. Vane 
felt much the same way when he heard 
Mac Ian s simple explanation: He is my 
enemy. He is the enemy of God." He said, 
It is most undesirable that things of that 
sort should be spoken about a in public, 
and in an ordinary Court of Justice. Religion 

39 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

is a too personal a matter to be mentioned 
in such a place." However, Maclan is fined. 
After which he and Turnbull, as men of honour, 
buy themselves swords and proceed to fight 
the matter out. With interruptions due to 
argument and the police, the fight lasts several 
weeks. Turnbull and Maclan fight in the back 
garden of the man from whom they bought 
the swords, 1 until the police intervene. They 
escape the police and gain the Northern 
Heights of London, and fight once more, with 
a madness renewed and stimulated by the 
peace-making efforts of a stray and silly 
Tolstoy an. Then the police come again, and 
are once more outdistanced. This time mortal 
combat is postponed on account of the san- 
guinolence of a casual lunatic who worshipped 
blood to such a nauseating extent that the 
duellists deferred operations in order to chase 
him into a pond. Then follows an intermin 
able dialogue, paradoxical, thoroughly Shavian, 
while the only two men in England to whom 
God literally is a matter of life and death find 
that they begin to regard the slaughter of one 
by the other as an unpleasant duty. Again 

1 Chesterton jeers at this man s " Scottish " ancestry because his 
surname was Gordon and he was obviously a Jew. The author is 
probably unaware that there are large numbers of Jews bearing 
that name in Russia. If he had made his Jew call himself 
Macpherson, the case would have been different. 

40 



THE ROMANCER 

they fight and are separated. They are motored 
by a lady to the Hampshire coast, and there 
they fight on the sands until the rising tide 
cuts them off. An empty boat turns up to 
rescue them from drowning ; in it they reach 
one of the Channel Islands. Again they fight, 
and again the police come. They escape from 
them, but remain on the island in disguise, 
and make themselves an opportunity to pick 
a quarrel and so fight a duel upon a matter 
in keeping with local prejudice. But Turn- 
bull has fallen in love. His irritatingly 
calm and beautiful devotee argues with him 
on religion until he is driven to cast off his 
disguise. Then the police are on his tracks 
again. A lunatic lends Turnbull and Maclan 
his yacht and so the chase continues. But by 
this time Chesterton is getting just a trifle 
bored. He realizes that no matter how many 
adventures his heroes get into, or how many 
paradoxes they fling down each other s throats, 
the end of the story, the final inevitable end 
which alone makes a series of rapid adventures 
worth while, is not even on the horizon. An 
element of that spurious mysticism already 
described invades the book. It begins to be 
clear that Chesterton is trying to drag in a 
moral somehow, if need be, by the hair of its 
head. The two yacht ers spend two weeks of 

41 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

geographical perplexity and come to a desert 
island. They land, but think it wiser, on the 
whole, to postpone fighting until they have 
finished the champagne and cigars with which 
their vessel is liberally stored. This takes a 
week. Just as they are about to begin the 
definitive duel they discover that they are not 
upon a desert island at all, they are near 
Margate. And the police are there, too. So 
once more they are chased. They land in a 
large garden in front of an old gentleman who 
assures them that he is God. He turns out to 
be a lunatic, and the place an asylum. There 
follows a characteristic piece of that abuse of 
science for which Chesterton has never at 
tempted to suggest a substitute. Maclan and 
Turnbull find themselves prisoners, unable to 
get out. Then they dream dreams. Each sees 
himself in an aeroplane flying over Fleet Street 
and Ludgate Hill, where a battle is raging. 
But the woolly element is very pronounced by 
this time, and we can make neither head nor 
tail of these dreams and the conversations 
which accompany them. The duellists are 
imprisoned for a month in horrible cells. They 
find their way into the garden, and are told 
that all England is now in the hands of the 
alienists, by a new Act of Parliament : this 
has been the only possible manner of putting 

42 



THE ROMANCER 

a stop to the revolution started by Maclan 
and Turnbull. These two find all the persons 
they had met with during their odyssey, 
packed away in the asylum, which is a won 
derful place worked by petroleum machinery. 
But the matter-of-fact grocer from the Channel 
Island, regarding the whole affair as an in 
fringement of the Rights of Man, sets the 
petroleum alight. Michael, the celestial being 
who had appeared in the first chapter and 
disappeared at the end of it, is dragged out 
of a cell in an imbecile condition. Lucifer 
comes down in his airship to collect the doctors, 
whose bodies he drops out, a little later on. 
The buildings vanish in the flames, the keepers 
bolt, the inmates talk about their souls. 
Maclan is reunited to the lady of the Channel 
Island, and the story ends. 

When a stone has been tossed into a pond, 
the ripples gradually and symmetrically grow 
smaller. A Chesterton novel is like an adven 
turous voyage of discovery, which begins on 
smooth water and is made with the object of 
finding the causes of the ripples. As ripple 
succeeds ripple or chapter follows chapter- 
so we have to keep a tighter hold on such 
tangible things as are within our reach. Finally 
we reach the centre of the excitement and are 
either sucked into a whirlpool, or hit on the 

43 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

head with a stone. When we recover conscious 
ness we feebly remember we have had a thrill 
ing journey and that we had started out with 
a misapprehension of the quality of Chester- 
tonian fiction. A man whose memory is 
normal should be able to give an accurate 
synopsis of a novel six months after he has 
read it. But I should be greatly surprised if 
any reader of The Ball and the Cross could tell 
exactly what it was all about, within a month 
or two of reading it. The discontinuity of it 
makes one difficulty ; the substitution of 
paradox for incident makes another. Yet it 
is difficult to avoid the conviction that this 
novel will survive its day and the generation 
that begot it. If it was Chesterton s endeavour 
(as one is bound to suspect) to show that the 
triumph of atheism would lead to the triumph 
of a callous and inhuman body of scientists, 
then he has failed miserably. But if he was 
attempting to prove that the uncertainties of 
religion were trivial things when compared 
with the uncertainties of atheism, then the 
verdict must be reversed. The dialogues on 
religion contained in The Ball and the Cross 
are alone enough and more than enough to 
place it among the few books on religion which 
could be safely placed in the hands of an 
atheist or an agnostic with an intelligence. 

44 



THE ROMANCER 

If we consider Manalive (1912) now we shall 
be departing from strict chronological order, 
as it was preceded by The Innocence of Father 
Brown. It will, however, be more satisfactory 
to take the two Father Brown books together. 
In the first of these and Manalive, a change 
can be distinctly felt. It is not a simple 
weakening of the power of employing instru 
ments, such as befell Ibsen when, after writing 
The Lady from the Sea, he could no longer keep 
his symbols and his characters apart. It is a 
more subtle change, a combination of several 
small changes, which cannot be studied fairly 
in relation only to one side of Chesterton s 
work. In the last chapter an attempt will be 
made to analyze these, for the present I can 
only indicate some of the fallings-off noticeable 
in Manalive, and leave it at that. Chesterton s 
previous romances were not constructed, the 
reader may have gathered, with that minute 
attention to detail which makes some modern 
novels read like the report of a newly promoted 
detective. But a man may do such things and 
yet be considered spotless. Shakespeare, after 
all, went astray on several points of history 
and geography. The authors of the Old 
Testament talked about "the hare that cheweth 
the cud." And, if any reader should fail to 
see the application of these instances to 

45 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

modern fiction, I can only recommend him to 
read Vanity Fair and find out how many 
children had the Rev. Bute Crawley, and what 
were their names. No, the trouble with 
Manalive is not in its casual, happy-go-lucky 
construction. It is rather in a certain lack of 
ease, a tendency to exaggerate effects, a con 
tinual stirring up of inconsiderable points. 
But let us come to the story. 

There is a boarding-house situated on one 
of the summits of the Northern Heights. A 
great wind happens, and a large man, quite 
literally, blows in. His name is Innocent 
Smith and he is naturally considered insane. 
But he is really almost excessively sane. His 
presence makes life at the house a sort of 
holiday for the inmates, male and female. 
Smith is about to run for a special licence in 
order to marry one of the women in the house, 
and the other boarders have just paired off 
when a telegram posted by one of the ladies 
in a misapprehension brings two lunacy experts 
around in a cab. Smith adds to the excite 
ment of the moment by putting a couple of 
bullets through a doctor s hat. 

Now Smith is what somebody calls " an 
allegorical practical joker." But Chesterton 
gives a better description of him than 
that. 

46 



THE ROMANCER 

He s comic just because he s so startlingly common 
place. Don t you know what it is to be in all one 
family circle, with aunts and uncles, when a school 
boy comes home for the holidays ? That bag there 
on the cab is only a schoolboy s hamper. This tree 
here in the garden is only the sort of tree that any 
schoolboy would have climbed. Yes, that s the sort 
of thing that has haunted us all about him, the thing 
we could never fit a word to. Whether he is my old 
schoolfellow or no, at least he is all my old school 
fellows. He is the endless bun-eating, ball-throwing 
animal that we have all been. 

Innocent has an idea about every few 
minutes, but so far as the book is concerned 
we need mention only one of them. That one 
is local autonomy for Beacon House. This 
may be recommended as a game to be played 
en famille. Establish a High Court, call in a 
legal member, and get a constitution. The 
rest will be very hilarious. The legal member 
of the Beacon House menage is an Irish ex- 
barrister, one Michael Moon, who plans as 
follows : 

The High Court of Beacon, he declared, was a 
splendid example of our free and sensible constitu 
tion. It had been founded by King John in defiance 
of Magna Carta, and now held absolute power over 
windmills, wine and spirit licences, ladies travelling 
in Turkey, revision of sentences for dog-stealing and 
parricide, as well as anything whatever that hap 
pened in the town of Market Bosworth. The whole 

47 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

hundred and nine seneschals of the High Court of 
Beacon met about once in every four centuries ; but 
in the intervals (as Mr. Moon explained) the whole 
powers of the institution were vested in Mrs. Duke 
[the landlady]. Tossed about among the rest of the 
company, however, the High Court did not retain its 
historical and legal seriousness, but was used some 
what unscrupulously in a riot of domestic detail. If 
somebody spilt the Worcester Sauce on the table 
cloth, he was quite sure it was a rite without which 
the sittings and findings of the Court would be 
invalid ; and if somebody wanted a window to 
remain shut, he \vould suddenly remember that none 
but the third son of the lord of the manor of Penge 
had the right to open it. They even went the length 
of making arrests and conducting criminal inquiries. 

Before this tribunal Innocent Smith is 
brought. One alienist is an American, who is 
quite prepared to acknowledge its jurisdiction, 
being by reason of his nationality not easily 
daunted by mere constitutional queerness. 
The other doctor, being the prosecutor and a 
boarder, has no choice in the matter. The 
doctors, it should be added, have brought with 
them a mass of documentary evidence, incrimi 
nating Smith. 

How the defence has time to collect this 
evidence is not explained, but this is just one 
of the all-important details which do not 
matter in the Chestertonian plane. Smith is 

48 



THE ROMANCER 

tried for attempted murder. The prosecution 
fails because the evidence shows Smith to be 
a first-class shot, who has on occasion fired life 
into people by frightening them. Then he is 
tried for burglary on the basis of a clergyman s 
letter from which it is gathered that Smith 
tried one night to induce him and another 
cleric to enter a house burglariously in the 
dark. This charge breaks down because a 
letter is produced from the other clergyman 
who did actually accompany Smith over house 
tops and down through trap-doors into his own 
house ! Smith, it is explained, is in the habit 
of keeping himself awake to the romance and 
wonder of everyday existence by such courses. 
From the second letter, however, it appears 
that there is a Mrs. Smith, so the next charge 
is one of desertion and attempted bigamy. A 
series of documents is produced, from persons 
in France, Russia, China, and California re 
counting conversations with Smith, a man 
with a garden-rake, who left his house so that 
he might find it, and at the end leapt over the 
hedge into the garden where Mrs. Smith was 
having tea. In the words of the servant " he 
looked round at the garden and said, very loud 
and strong : Oh, what a lovely place you ve 
got, just as if he d never seen it before/ After 
which the court proceeds to try Smith on 
D 49 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

a polygamy charge. Documentary evidence 
shows that Smith has at one time or another 
married a Miss Green, a Miss Brown, a Miss 
Black, just as he is now about to marry a Miss 
Gray, Moon points out that these are all the 
same lady. Innocent Smith has merely broken 
the conventions, he has religiously kept the 
commandments. He has burgled his own 
house, and married his own wife. He has been 
perfectly innocent, and therefore he has been 
perfectly merry. Innocent is acquitted, and 
the book ends. 

In the course of Manalive, somebody says, 
" Going right round the world is the shortest 
way to where you are already." These are the 
words of an overworked epigrammatist, and 
upon them hangs the whole story. If Manalive 
is amusing, it is because Chesterton has a style 
which could make even a debilitated paradox 
of great length seem amusing. The book has 
a few gorgeous passages. Among the docu 
ments read at the trial of Innocent Smith, for 
example, is a statement made by a Trans- 
Siberian station-master, which is a perfectly 
exquisite burlesque at the expense of the 
Russian intelligentsia. The whole series of 
documents, in fact, are delightful bits of self- 
expression on the part of a very varied team 
of selves. While Chesterton is able to turn out 

50 



THE ROMANCER 

such things we must be content to take the 
page, and not the story, as his unit of work. 
Manalive, by the way, is the first of the 
author s stories in which women are repre 
sented as talking to one another. Chesterton 
seems extraordinarily shy with his feminine 
characters. He is a little afraid of woman. 

The average woman is a despot, the average 
man is a serf." 1 Mrs. Innocent Smith s view 
of men is in keeping with this peculiar notion. 

4 At certain curious times they re just fit to 
take care of us, and they re never fit to take 
care of themselves." Smith is the Chester- 
tonian Parsifal, just as Prince Muishkin is 
Dostoievsky s. 

The transcendental type of detective, first 
sketched out in The Club of Queer Trades, is 
developed more fully in the two Father Brown 
books. In the little Roman priest who has 
such a wonderful instinct for placing the 
diseased spots in people s souls, we have 
Chesterton s completest and most human crea 
tion. Yet, with all their cleverness, and in 
spite of the fact that from internal evidence it 
is almost blatantly obvious that the author 
enjoyed writing these stories, they bear marks 
which put the books on a lower plane than 
either The Napoleon of Notting Hill or The Ball 

1 All Things Considered, p. 106. 

51 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

and the Cross. In the latter book Chesterton 
spoke of " the mere healthy and heathen horror 
of the unclean ; the mere inhuman hatred of 
the inhuman state of madness." His own 
critical work had been a long protest against 
the introduction of artificial horrors, a plea for 
sanity and the exercise of sanity. But in The 
Innocence of Father Brown these principles, 
almost the fundamental ones of literary decency, 
were put on the shelf. Chesterton s criminals 
are lunatics, perhaps it is his belief that crime 
and insanity are inseparable. But even if this 
last supposition is correct, its approval would 
not necessarily license the introduction of some 
of the characters. There is Israel Gow, who 
suffers from a peculiar mania which drives him 
to collect gold from places seemly and un 
seemly, even to the point of digging up a 
corpse in order to extract the gold filling from 
its teeth. There is the insane French Chief of 
Police, who commits a murder and attempts 
to disguise the body, and the nature of the 
crime, by substituting the head of a guillotined 
criminal for that of the victim. In another 
story we have the picture of a cheerful teeto 
taller who suffers from drink and suicidal 
mania. There is also a doctor who kills a mad 
poet, and a mad priest who drops a hammer 
from the top of his church-tower upon his 

52 



THE ROMANCER 

brother. Another story is about the loathsome 
treachery of an English general. It is, of course, 
difficult to write about crime without touching 
on features which revolt the squeamish reader, 
but it can be done, and it has been done, as in 
the Sherlock Holmes stories. There are sub 
jects about which one instinctively feels it is 
not good to know too much. Sex, for example, 
is one of them. Strindberg, Weininger, Mau 
passant, Jules de Goncourt, knew too much 
about sex, and they all went mad, although it 
is usual to disguise the fact in the less familiar 
terms of medical science. Madness itself is 
another such subject. There are writers who 
dwell on madness because they cannot help 
themselves Strindberg, Edgar Allan Poe, 
Gogol, and many others but they scarcely 
produce the same nauseating sensation as the 
sudden introduction of the note of insanity 
into a hitherto normal setting. The harnessing 
of the horror into which the discovery of in 
sanity reacts is a favourite device of the feeble 
craftsman, but it is illegitimate. It is abso 
lutely opposed to those elementary canons of 
good taste which decree that we may not jest 
at the expense of certain things, either because 
they are too sacred or not sacred enough. The 
opposite of a decadent author is not neces 
sarily a writer who attacks decadents. Many 

53 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

decadents have attacked themselves, by com 
mitting suicide, for example. The opposite of 
a decadent author is one to whom decadent 
ideas and imagery are alien, which is a very 
different thing. For example, the whole story 
The Wrong Shape is filled with decadent ideas ; 
one is sure that Baudelaire would have en 
tirely approved of it. It includes a decadent 
poet, living in wildly Oriental surroundings, 
attended by a Hindoo servant. Even the air 
of the place is decadent ; Father Brown on 
entering the house learns instinctively from it 
that a crime is to be committed. 

Considered purely as detective stories, these 
cannot be granted a very good mark. There 
is scarcely a story that has not a serious flaw 
in it. A man Flambeau, of whom more later 
-gains admittance to a small and select dinner 
party and almost succeeds in stealing the silver, 
by the device of turning up and pretending to 
be a guest when among the waiters, and a 
waiter when among the guests. But it is not 
explained what he did during the first two 
courses of that dinner, when he obviously had 
to be either a waiter or a guest, and could not 
keep up both parts, as when the guests were 
arriving. Another man, a " Priest of Apollo," 
is worshipping the sun on the top of a sky- 
scraping " block of offices in Westminster, while 

54 



THE ROMANCER 

a woman falls down a lift-shaft and is killed. 
Father Brown immediately concludes that the 
priest is guilty of the murder because, had he 
been unprepared, he would have started and 
looked round at the scream and the crash of 
the victim falling. But a man absorbed in 
prayer on, let us say, a tenth floor, is, in point 
of fact, quite unlikely to hear a crash in the 
basement, or a scream even nearer to him. 
But the most astonishing thing about The Eye 
of Apollo is the staging. In order to provide 
the essentials, Mr. Chesterton has to place " the 
heiress of a crest and half a county, as well as 
great wealth," who is blind, in a typist s 
office ! The collocation is somewhat too singu 
lar. One might go right through the Father 
Brown stories in this manner. But, if the 
reader wishes to draw the maximum of enjoy 
ment out of them, he will do nothing of the 
sort. He will believe, as fervently as Alfred 
de Vigny, that L Idee C est Tout, and lay down 
all petty regard for detail at the feet of Father 
Brown. This little Roman cleric has listened 
to so many confessions (he calls himself " a man 
who does next to nothing but hear men s real 
sins," but this seems to be excessive, even for 
a Roman Catholic) that he is really well 
acquainted with the human soul. He is also 
extremely observant. And his greatest friend 

55 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

is Flambeau, whom he once brings to judg 
ment, twice hinders in crime, and thence 
forward accompanies on detective expeditions. 

The Innocence of Father Brown had a sequel, 
The Wisdom of Father Brown, distinctly less 
effective, as sequels always are, than the pre 
decessor. But the underlying ideas are the 
same. In the first place there is a deep detes 
tation of " Science (whatever that is) and 
the maintenance of the theory incarnate in 
Father Brown, that he who can read the human 
soul knows all things. The detestation of 
science (of which, one gathers, Chesterton 
knows nothing) is carried to the same absurd 
length as in The Ball and the Cross. In the 
very first story, Father Brown calls on a 
criminologist ostensibly in order to consult 
him, actually in order to show the unfortunate 
man, who had retired from business fourteen 
years ago, what an extraordinary fool he was. 

The Father Brown of these stories moon 
faced little man is a peculiar creation. No 
other author would have taken the trouble to 
excogitate him, and then treat him so badly. 
As a detective he never gets a fair chance. He 
is always on the spot when a murder is due to 
be committed, generally speaking he is there 
before time. When an absconding banker 
commits suicide under peculiar circumstances 

56 



THE ROMANCER 

in Italian mountains, when a French publicist 
advertises himself by fighting duels with him 
self (very nearly), when a murder is committed 
in the dressing-room corridor of a theatre, 
when a miser and blackmailer kills himself, 
when a lunatic admiral attempts murder and 
then commits suicide, when amid much in 
coherence a Voodoo murder takes place, when 
somebody tries to kill a colonel by playing on 
his superstitions (and by other methods), and 
when a gentleman commits suicide from envy, 
Father Brown is always there. One might 
almost interpret the Father Brown stories by 
suggesting that their author had written them 
in order to illustrate the sudden impetus given 
to murder and suicide by the appearance of 
a Roman priest. 

Here we may suspend our reviews of Ches- 
tertonian romance. There remains yet The 
Flying Inn, which shall be duly considered 
along with the other debris of its author. In 
summing up, it may be said of Chesterton that 
at his best he invented new possibilities of 
romance and a new and hearty laugh. It may 
be said of the decadents of the eighteen 
nineties, that if their motto wasn t " Let s all 
go bad," it should have been. So one may 
say of Chesterton that if he has not selected 
Let s all go mad " as a text, he should have 

57 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

done. Madness, in the Chestertonian, what 
ever it is in the pathological sense, is a defiance 
of convention, a loosening of visible bonds in 
order to show the strength of the invisible 
ones ; perhaps, as savages are said to regard 
lunatics with great respect, holding them to be 
nearer the Deity than most, so Chesterton 
believes of his own madmen. Innocent Smith, 
of course, the simple fool, the blithering idiot, 
is a truly wise man. 



58 



Ill 

THE MAKER OF MAGIC 

CHESTERTON S only play, Magic., was written 
at the suggestion of Mr. Kenelm Foss and 
produced by him in November, 1913, at the 
Little Theatre, where it enjoyed a run of more 
than one hundred performances. This charm 
ing thing does not make one wish that Ches 
terton was an habitual playwright, for one feels 
that Magic was a sort of tank into which its 
author s dramatic talents had been draining 
for many years although, in actual fact, 
Chesterton allowed newspaper interviewers to 
learn that the play had been written in a very 
short space of time. His religious ideas were 
expressed in Magic with great neatness. Most 
perhaps of all his works this is a quotable 
production. 

Patricia Carleon, a niece of the Duke, her 
guardian, is in the habit of wandering about 
his grounds seeing fairies. On the night when 
her brother Morris is expected to return from 
America she is having a solitary moonlight 

59 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

stroll when she sees a Stranger, " a cloaked 
figure with a pointed hood," which last almost 
covers his face. She naturally asks him what 
he is doing there. He replies, mapping out the 
ground with his staff : 

I have a hat, but not to wear ; 
I have a sword, but not to slay ; 
And ever in my bag I bear 
A pack of cards, but not to play. 

This, he tells her, is the language of fairies. He 
tells her that fairies are not small things, but 
quite the reverse. After a few sentences have 
been spoken the prologue comes to an end, 
and the curtain rises upon the scene of the 
play, the drawing-room of the Duke. Here is 
seated the Rev. Cyril Smith, a young clergy 
man, an honest man and not an ass." To 
him enters the Duke s Secretary, to tell him 
the Duke is engaged at the moment, but will 
be down shortly. He is followed by Dr. Grim- 
thorpe, an elderly agnostic, the red lamp of 
whose house can be seen through the open 
French windows. Smith is erecting a model 
public-house in the village, and has come to 
ask the Duke for a contribution towards the 
cost. Grimthorpe is getting up a league for 
opposing the erection of the new public-house, 
and has also come to the Duke for help. They 
discover the nature of each other s errand. 

60 



THE MAKER OF MAGIC 

Smith s case is, " How can the Church have a 
right to make men fast if she does not allow 
them to feast ? " ; Grimthorpe s, that alcohol 
is not a food. The Duke s Secretary enters 
and gives Smith a cheque for 50, then he 
gives the Doctor another also for 50. This 
is the first glimpse we have of the Duke s 
eccentricity, an excessive impartiality based 
on the theory that everybody " does a great 
deal of good in his own way," and on sheer 
absence of mind an absence which sometimes 
is absolutely literal. The Doctor explains in 
confidence to the Clergyman that there is some 
thing wrong about the family of Patricia and 
Morris, who are of Irish origin. . . ." They saw 
fairies and things of that sort." 

SMITH. And I suppose, to the medical mind, seeing 
fairies means much the same as seeing snakes ? 

DOCTOR. [With a sour smile.] Well, they saw 
them in Ireland. I suppose it s quite correct to see 
fairies in Ireland. It s like gambling at Monte Carlo. 
It s quite respectable. But I do draw the line at their 
seeing fairies in England. I do object to their bring 
ing their ghosts and goblins and witches into the poor 
Duke s own back garden and within a yard of my 
own red lamp. It shows a lack of tact. 

Patricia, moreover, wanders about the park 
and the woods in the evenings. " Damp 
evenings for choice. She calls it the Celtic 

61 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

twilight. I ve no use for the Celtic twilight 
myself. It has a tendency to get on the chest." 
The Duke, annoyed by this love of fairies, has 
blundered, in his usual way, on an absurd com 
promise between the real and the ideal. A 
conjuror is to come that very night. When 
explanations have gone so far, the Duke at 
last makes his entry. The stage directions tell 
us that " in the present state of the peerage 
it is necessary to explain that the Duke, 
though an ass, is a gentleman." His thoughts 
are the most casual on earth. He is always 
being reminded of something or somebody 
which has nothing to do with the case. As for 
instance, " I saw the place you re putting up 
. . . Mr. Smith. Very good work. Very good 
work, indeed. Art for the people, eh ? I par 
ticularly liked that woodwork over the west 
door I m glad to see you re using the new 
sort of graining . . . why, it all reminds one 
of the French Revolution." After one or two 
dissociations of this sort, the expected Morris 
Carleon enters through the French window ; 
he is rather young and excitable, and America 
has overlaid the original Irishman. Morris 
immediately asks for Patricia and is told that 
she is wandering in the garden. The Duke 
lets out that she sees fairies ; Morris raves a 
bit about his sister being allowed out alone 

62 



THE MAKER OF MAGIC 

with anything in the nature of a man, when 
Patricia herself enters. She is in a slightly 
exalted state ; she has just seen her fairy, him 
of the pointed hood. Morris, of course, is 
furious, not to say suspicious. 

DOCTOR. [Putting his hand on MORRIS S shoulder.] 
Come, you must allow a little more for poetry. We 
can t all feed on nothing but petrol. 

DUKE. Quite right, quite right. And being Irish, 
don t you know, Celtic, as old Buffle used to* say, 
charming songs, you know, about the Irish girl who 
has a plaid shawl and a Banshee. [Sighs pro 
foundly.] Poor old Gladstone ! [Silence.] 

SMITH. [Speaking to DOCTOR.] I thought you 
yourself considered the family superstition bad for 
the health ? 

DOCTOR. I consider a family superstition is better 
for the health than a family quarrel. 

A figure is seen to stand in front of the red 
lamp, blotting it out for a moment. Patricia 
calls to it, and the cloaked Stranger with the 
pointed hood enters. Morris at once calls him 
a fraud. 

SMITH. [Quickly.] Pardon me, I do not fancy 
that we know that . . . 

MORRIS. I didn t know you parsons stuck up for 
any fables but your own. 

SMITH. I stick up for the thing every man has a 
right to. Perhaps the only thing every man has a 
right to. 

63 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

MORRIS. And what is that ? 
SMITH. The benefit of the doubt. 

Morris returns to the attack. The Stranger 
throws off his hood and reveals himself to the 
Duke. He is the Conjuror, ready for the even 
ing s performance. All laugh at this denoue 
ment, except Patricia, between whom and the 
Conjuror this bit of dialogue ensues : 

STRANGER. [Very sadly.] I am very sorry I am 
not a wizard. 

PATRICIA. I wish you were a thief instead. 

STRANGER. Have I committed a worse crime than 
thieving ? 

PATRICIA. You have committed the cruellest 
crime, I think, that there is. 

STRANGER. And what is the cruellest crime ? 

PATRICIA. Stealing a child s toy. 

STRANGER. And what have I stolen ? 

PATRICIA. A fairy tale. 

And the curtain falls upon the First Act. 

An hour later the room is being prepared 
for the performance. The Conjuror is setting 
out his tricks, and the Duke is entangling him 
and the Secretary in his peculiar conversation. 
The following is characteristic : 

THE SECRETARY. . . . The only other thing at all 
urgent is the Militant Vegetarians. 

DUKE. Ah ! The Militant Vegetarians ! You ve 

64 



THE MAKER OF MAGIC 

heard of them, I m sure. Won t obey the law [to the 
CONJUROR] so long as the Government serves out meat. 

CONJUROR. Let them be comforted. There are a 
good many people who don t get much meat. 

DUKE. Well, well, I m bound to say they re very 
enthusiastic. Advanced, too oh, certainly advanced. 
Like Joan of Arc. 

[Short silence, in which the CONJUROR stares at him.] 

CONJUROR. Was Joan of Arc a Vegetarian ? 

DUKE. Oh, well, it s a very high ideal, after all. 
The Sacredness of Life, you know the Sacredness of 
Life. [Shakes his head.] But they carry it too far. 
They killed a policeman down in Kent. 

This conversation goes on for some time, 
while nothing in particular happens, except 
that the audience feels very happy. The Duke 
asks the Conjuror several questions, receiving 
thoroughly Chestertonian answers. [" Are you 
interested in modern progress ? " Yes. We 
are interested in all tricks done by illusion."] 
At last the Conjuror is left alone. Patricia 
enters. He attempts to excuse himself for the 
theft of the fairy tale. He has had a trouble 
some life, and has never enjoyed " a holiday 
in Fairyland." So, when he, with his hood up, 
because of the slight rain, was surprised by 
Patricia, as he was rehearsing his patter, and 
taken for a fairy, he played up to her. Patricia 
is inclined to forgive him, but the conversation 
is interrupted by the entrance of Morris, in a 
E 65 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

mood to be offensive. He examines the ap 
paratus, proclaims the way it is worked, and 
after a while breaks out into a frenzy of free 
thought, asking the universe in general and 
the Conjuror in particular for " that old 
apparatus that turned rods into snakes." The 
Clergyman and the Doctor enter, and the con 
versation turns on religion, and then goes back 
to the tricks. Morris is still extremely quarrel 
some, and for the second time has to be quieted 
down. The Conjuror is dignified, but cutting. 
The whole scene has been, so far, a discussion 
on Do Miracles Happen ? Smith makes out 
a case in the affirmative, arguing from the 
false to the true. Suppose, as Morris claims, 
the " modern conjuring tricks are simply the 
old miracles when they have once been found 
out. . . . When we speak of things being 
sham, we generally mean that they are imita 
tions of things that are genuine." Morris gets 
more and more excited, and continues to in 
sult the Conjuror. At last he shouts ..." You ll 
no more raise your Saints and Prophets from 
the dead than you ll raise the Duke s great 
grandfather to dance on that wall." At which 
the Reynolds portrait in question sways slightly 
from side to side. Morris turns furiously to the 
Conjuror, accusing him of trickery. A chair 
falls over, for no apparent cause, still further 

66 



THE MAKER OF MAGIC 

exciting the youth. At last he blurts out a 
challenge. The Doctor s red lamp is the lamp 
of science. No power on earth could change 
its colour. And the red light turns blue, for 
a minute. Morris, absolutely puzzled, comes 
literally to his wits end, and rushes out, 
followed shortly afterwards by his sister and 
the Doctor. The youth is put to bed, and left 
in the care of Patricia, while the Doctor and 
the Clergyman return to their argument. Smith 
makes out a strong case for belief, for simple 
faith, a case which sounds strangely, coming 
from the lips of a clergyman of the Church 
of England. 

DOCTOR. Weren t there as many who believed 
passionately in Apollo ? 

SMITH. And what harm came of believing in 
Apollo ? And what a mass of harm may have come 
of not believing in Apollo ? Does it never strike you 
that doubt can be a madness, as well be faith ? That 
asking questions may be a disease, as well as pro 
claiming doctrines ? You talk of religious mania ! 
Is there no such thing as irreligious mania ? Is there 
no such thing in the house at this moment ? 

DOCTOR. Then you think no one should question 
at all ? 

SMITH. [With passion, pointing to the next room.] 
I think that is what comes of questioning ! Why can t 
you leave the universe alone and let it mean what it 
Irkes ? Why shouldn t the thunder be Jupiter ? 

67 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

More men have made themselves silly by wondering 
what the devil it was if it wasn t Jupiter. 

DOCTOR. [Looking at him.] Do you believe in your 
own religion ? 

SMITH. [Returning the look equally steadily.] Sup 
pose I don t : I should still be a fool to question it. 
The child who doubts about Santa Claus has in 
somnia. The child who believes has a good night s 
rest. 

DOCTOR. You are a Pragmatist. 

SMITH. That is what the lawyers call vulgar abuse. 
But I do appeal to practice. Here is a family over 
which you tell me a mental calamity hovers. Here is 
the boy who questions everything and a girl who 
can believe anything. Upon whom has the curse 
fallen ? 

At this point the curtain was made to fall 
on the Second Act. The Third and last Act 
takes place in the same room a few hours later. 
The Conjuror has packed his bag, and is going. 
The Doctor has been sitting up with the 
patient. Morris is in a more or less delirious 
state, and is continually asking how the trick 
was done. The Doctor believes that the ex 
planation would satisfy the patient and would 
probably help him to turn the corner. But the 
Conjuror will not provide an explanation. He 
has many reasons, the most practical of which 
is that he would not be believed. The Duke 
comes in and tries to make a business matter 

68 



THE MAKER OF MAGIC 

of the secret, even to the extent of paying 
2000 for it. Suddenly the Conjuror changes 
his mind. He will tell them how the trick was 
done, it was all very simple. "It is the sim 
plest thing in the world. That is why you will 
not laugh. ... I did it by magic." The 
Doctor and the Duke are dumbfounded. Smith 
intervenes ; he cannot accept the explanation. 
The Conjuror lets himself go, now he is voicing 
Chesterton s views. The clergyman who merely 
believes in belief, as Smith does, will not do. 
He must believe in a fact, which is far more 
difficult. 

CONJUROR. I say these things are supernatural. 
I say this is done by a spirit. The doctor does not 
believe me. He is an agnostic ; and he knows every 
thing. The Duke does not believe me ; he cannot 
believe anything so plain as a miracle. But what the 
devil are you for, if you don t believe in a miracle ? 
What does your coat mean if it doesn t mean that 
there is such a thing as the supernatural ? What 
does your cursed collar mean if it doesn t mean that 
there is such a thing as a spirit ? [Exasperated.] Why 
the devil do you dress up like that if you don t 
believe in it ? [With violence.] Or perhaps you don t 
believe in devils ? 

SMITH. I believe . . . [After a pause.] I wish I 
could believe. 

CONJUROR. Yes. I wish I could disbelieve. 

Here Patricia enters. She wants to speak 

69 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

to the Conjuror, with whom she is left alone. 
A little love scene takes place : rather the 
result o two slightly sentimental and rather 
tired persons of different sexes being left alone 
than anything else. But they return to 
realities, with an effort. Patricia, too, wants 
to know how the trick was done, in order to 
tell her brother. He tells her, but she is of 
the world which cannot believe in devils, even 
although it may manage to accept fairies as 
an inevitable adjunct to landscape scenery by 
moonlight. In order to convince her the Con 
juror tells her how he fell, how after dabbling 
in spiritualism he found he had lost control 
over himself. But he had resisted the temp 
tation to make the devils his servants, until 
the impudence of Morris had made him lose 
his temper. Then he goes out into the garden 
to see if he can find some explanation to give 
Morris. The Duke, Smith, the Doctor, and 
the Secretary drift into the room, which is now 
tenanted by something impalpable but hor 
rible. The Conjuror returns and clears the air 
with an exorcism. He has invented an ex 
planation, which he goes out to give to Morris. 
Patricia announces that her brother immedi 
ately took a turn for the better. The Conjuror 
refuses to repeat the explanation he gave 
Morris, because if he did, " Half an hour after 

70 



THE MAKER OF MAGIC 

I have left this house you will all be saying 
how it was done." He turns to go. 

PATRICIA. Our fairy tale has come to an end in the 
only way a fairy tale can come to an end. The only 
way a fairy tale can leave off being a fairy tale. 

CONJUROR. I don t understand you. 

PATRICIA. It has come true. 

And the curtain falls for the last time. 

No doubt Magic owed a great deal of its 
success to the admirable production of Mr. 
Kenelm Foss and the excellence of the cast. 
Miss Grace Croft was surely the true Patricia. 
Of the Duke of Mr. Fred Lewis it is difficult 
to speak in terms other than superlative. 
Those of my readers who have suffered the 
misfortune of not having seen him, may gain 
some idea of his execution of the part from the 
illustrations to Mr. Belloc s novels. The Duke 
was an extraordinarily good likeness of the 
Duke of Battersea, as portrayed by Chesterton, 
with rather more than a touch of Mr. Asquith 
superadded. Mr. Fred Lewis, it may be stated, 
gagged freely, introducing topical lines until 
the play became a revue in little but without 
injustice to the original. Several of those who 
saw Magic came for a third, a fourth, even a 
tenth time. 

The Editor of The Dublin Review had the 
happy idea of asking Chesterton to review 

71 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Magic. The result is too long to quote in full, 
but it makes two important points which may 
be extracted. 

I will glide mercifully over the more glaring errors, 
which the critics have overlooked as that no Irish 
man could become so complete a cad merely by going 
to America that no young lady would walk about in 
the rain so soon before it was necessary to dress for 
dinner that no young man, however American, 
could run round a Duke s grounds in the time between 
one bad epigram and another that Dukes never 
allow the middle classes to encroach on their gardens 
so as to permit a doctor s lamp to be seen there that 
no sister, however eccentric, could conduct a slightly 
frivolous love-scene with a brother going mad in the 
next room that the Secretary disappears half-way 
through the play without explaining himself ; and 
the conjuror disappears at the end, with almost equal 
dignity. . . . 

By the exercise of that knowledge of all human 
hearts which descends on any man (however un 
worthy) the moment he is a dramatic critic, I per 
ceive that the author of Magic originally wrote it as 
a short story. It is a bad play, because it was a good 
short story. In a short story of mystery, as in a 
Sherlock Holmes story, the author and the hero (or 
villain) keep the reader out of the secret. . . . But the 
drama is built on that grander secrecy which was 
called the Greek irony. In the drama, the audience 
must know the truth when the actors do not know it. 
That is where the drama is truly democratic : not 
because the audience shouts, but because it knows 
and is silent. Now I do quite seriously think it is a 

72 



THE MAKER OF MAGIC 

weakness in a play like Magic that the audience is not 
in the central secret from the start. Mr. G. S. Street 
put the point with his usual unerring simplicity by 
saying that he could not help feeling disappointed 
with the Conjuror because he had hoped he would 
turn into the Devil. 

A few additions may easily be made to the 
first batch of criticisms. Patricia s welcome 
to her brother is not what a long-lost brother 
might expect. There is really no satisfactory 
reason for the Doctor s continued presence. 
Patricia and Morris can only be half Irish by 
blood, unless it is possible to become Irish by 
residence. Why should the Conjuror rehearse 
his patter out in the wet ? Surely the Duke s 
house would contain a spare room ? Where 
did the Conjuror go, at the end of the Third 
Act, in the small hours of the morning ? And 
so on. 

But these are little things that do not matter 
in an allegory. For in Magic " things are not 
what they seem." The Duke is a modern man. 
He is also the world, the flesh, and the devil. 
He has no opinions, no positive religion, no 
brain. He believes in his own tolerance, which 
is merely his fatuousness. He follows the line 
of least resistance, and makes a virtue of it. 
He sits on the fence, but he will never come 
off. The Clergyman is the church of to-day, 

73 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

preaching the supernatural, but unwilling to 
recognize its existence at close quarters. As 
somebody says somewhere in The Wisdom of 
Father Brown, " If a miracle happened in your 
office, you d have to hush it up, now so many 
bishops are atheists." The Doctor is a less 
typical figure. He is the inconsistencies of 
science, kindly but with little joy of life, and 
extremely Chestertonian, which is to say un 
scientific. Morris is the younger generation, 
obsessed with business and getting on, and 
intellectually incapable of facing a religious 
fact. Patricia is the Chestertonian good woman, 
too essentially domestic to be ever fundamen 
tally disturbed. The Conjuror, if not the Devil, 
is at any rate that inexplicable element in all 
life which most people do not see. 

Nevertheless there is a flaw in Magic which 
really is serious. If I were to see, let us say, 
a sheet of newspaper flying down the road 
against the wind, and a friend of mine, who 
happened to be a gifted liar, told me that he 
was directing the paper by means of spirits, 
I should still be justified in believing that 
another explanation could be possible. I 
should say, " My dear friend, your explanation 
is romantic ; I believe in spirits but I do not 
believe in you. I prefer to think that there 
is an air-current going the wrong way." That 

74 



THE MAKER OF MAGIC 

is the matter with the Conjuror s explanation. 
Why should the Clergyman or the Doctor- 
professional sceptics, both of them, which is 
to say seekers after truth take the word of 
a professional deceiver as necessarily true ? 

There are two works which the critic of 
Chesterton must take into special considera 
tion. They are Magic and Orthodoxy ; and it 
may be said that the former is a dramatized 
version of the latter. The two together are 
a great work, striking at the very roots of 
disbelief. In a sense Chesterton pays the 
atheist a very high compliment. He does what 
the atheist is generally too lazy to do for him 
self ; he takes his substitute for religion and 
systematizes it into something like a philosophy. 
Then he examines it as a whole. And he finds 
that atheism is dogma in its extremist form, 
that it embodies a multitude of superstitions, 
and that it is actually continually adding to 
their number. Such are the reasons of the 
greatness of Magic. The play, one feels, must 
remain unique, for the prolegomenon cannot 
be rewritten while the philosophy is unchanged. 
And Chesterton has deliberately chosen the 
word orthodox to apply to himself, and he has 
not limited its meaning. 



75 



IV 

THE 
CRITIC OF LARGE THINGS 

THE heroes of Chesterton s romances have an 
adipose diathesis, as a reviewer has been heard 
to remark. In plain English they tend towards 
largeness. Flambeau, Sunday, and Innocent 
Smith are big men. Chesterton, as we have 
seen, pays little attention to his women char 
acters, but whenever it comes to pass that he 
must introduce a heroine, he colours her as 
emphatically as the nature of things will 
admit. Which is to say that the Chestertonian 
heroine always has red hair. 

These things are symptomatic of their author. 
He loves robustness. If he cannot produce it, 
he can at any rate affect it, or attack its enemies. 
This worship of the robust is the fundamental 
fact of all Chesterton s work. For example, as 
a critic of letters he confines himself almost 
exclusively to the big men. When Mr. Bernard 
Shaw a few years ago committed what Ches 
terton imagined was an attack upon Shake- 

76 



CRITIC OF LARGE THINGS 

speare, he almost instinctively rushed to the 
defence in the columns of The Daily News. 
When Chesterton wrote a little book on The 
Victorian Age in Literature he showed no 
interest in the smaller people. The book, it 
may be urged in his excuse, was a little one, 
but we feel that even if it was not, Chesterton 
would have done much the same thing. Among 
the writers he omitted to mention, even by 
name, are Sir Edwin Arnold, Harrison Ains- 
worth, Walter Bagehot, R. Blackmore, A. H. 
Clough, E. A. Freeman, S. R. Gardiner, George 
Gissing, J. R. Green, T. H. Green, Henry 
Hallam, Jean Ingelow, Benjamin Jowett, W. 
E. H. Lecky, Thomas Love Peacock, W. M. 
Praed, and Mrs. Humphry Ward. The criti 
cism which feeds upon research and comparison, 
which considers a new date or the emendation 
of a mispunctuated line of verse, worthy of 
effort, knows not Chesterton. He is the student 
of the big men. He has written books about 
Dickens, Browning, and Shaw, of whom only 
one common quality can be noted, which is 
that they are each the subjects of at least 
twenty other books. To write about the things 
which have already yielded such a huge crop 
of criticism savours at first of a lack of imagin 
ation. The truth is quite otherwise. Any 
body, so to speak, can produce a book about 

77 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Alexander Pope because the ore is at the dis 
posal of every miner. But that larger mine 
called Dickens has been diligently worked by 
two generations of authors, and it would appear 
that a new one must either plagiarize or labour 
extremely in order to come upon fresh seams. 
But Chesterton s taste for bigness has come to 
his service in criticism. It has given him a 
power of seeing the large, obvious things which 
the critic of small things misses. He has the 
thinking in millions trick of the statistician 
transposed to literary ends. 

Or as a poet. The robustness is omni 
present, and takes several forms. A grandilo 
quence that sways uneasily between rodomon 
tade and mere verbiage, a rotundity of diction, 
a choice of subjects which can only be described 
as sanguinolent, the use of the bludgeon where 
others would prefer a rapier. 

Or as a simple user of words. Chesterton 
has a preference for the big words : awful, 
enormous, tremendous, and so on. A word 
which occurs very often indeed is mystic : it 
suggests that the noun it qualifies is laden with 
undisclosable attributes, and that romance is 
hidden here. 

Now all these things add up, as it were, to 
a tendency to say a thing as emphatically as 
possible. Emphasis of statement from a 

78 



CRITIC OF LARGE THINGS 

humorist gifted with the use of words results 
sometimes in epigram, sometimes in fun, in all 
things except the dull things (except when the 
dullness is due to an unhappy succession of 
scintillations which have misfired). For these 
reasons Chesterton is regarded as entirely 
frivolous by persons without a sense of 
humour. He is, in point of fact, extremely 
serious, on those frequent occasions when he 
is making out a case. As he himself points out, 
to be serious is not the opposite of to be funny. 
The opposite of to be funny is not to be funny. 
A man may be perfectly serious in a funny way. 
Now it has befallen Chesterton on more than 
one occasion to have to cross swords with one 
of the few true atheists, Mr. Joseph MacCabe, 
the author of a huge number of books, mostly 
attacking Christianity, and as devoid of humour 
as an egg-shell is of hair. The differences and 
the resemblances between Chesterton and Mr. 
MacCabe might well be the occasion of a 
parable. Chesterton has written some of the 
liveliest books about Christianity, Mr. MacCabe 
has written some of the dullest. Chesterton 
has written the most amusing book about 
Mr. Bernard Shaw ; Mr. MacCabe has written 
the dullest. Chesterton and Mr. MacCabe have 
a habit of sparring at one another, but up to 
the present I have not noticed either make any 

79 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

palpable hits. It is all rather like the Party 
System, as Mr. Hilaire Belloc depicts it. The 
two antagonists do not understand each other 
in the least. But, to a certain degree, Mr. 
MacCabe s confusion is the fault of Chesterton 
and not of his own lack of humour. When 
Chesterton says, " I also mean every word I 
say," he is saying something he does not mean. 
He is sometimes funny, but not serious, like 
Mr. George Robey. He is sometimes irritating, 
but not serious, like a circus clown. And he 
sometimes appears to be critical, but is not 
serious, like the young lady from Walworth 
in front of a Bond Street shop-window, regret 
ting that she could not possibly buy the 
crockery and glass displayed because the 
monogram isn t on right. Chesterton s readers 
have perhaps spoiled him. He has pleaded, 
so to speak, for the inalienable and mystic 
right of every man to be a blithering idiot in 
all seriousness. So seriously, in fact, that when 
he exercised this inalienable and mystic right, 
the only man not in the secret was G. K. 
Chesterton. 

There are few tasks so ungrateful as the 
criticism of a critic s criticisms, unless it be 
the job of criticizing the criticisms of a critic s 
critics. The first is part of the task of him 
who would write a book in which all Chester- 

80 



CRITIC OF LARGE THINGS 

ton s works are duly and fitly considered ; and 
the second will not be wholly escaped by him. 
Concerned as we are, however, with the ideas 
of one who was far more interested in putting 
the world to rights than with guiding men and 
women around literary edifices, there is no 
need for us to give any very detailed study to 
Chesterton s critical work. Bacon said " dis 
tilled books are like common distilled waters, 
flashy things." A second distillation, perhaps 
even a third, suggests a Euclidean flatness. 
The sheer management of a point of view, 
however, is always instructive. We have seen 
an author use his exceptional powers of criti 
cism upon society in general, and ideas at 
large. How is he able to deal with ideas and 
inventions stated in a more definite and par 
ticular manner ? The latter task is the more 
difficult of the two. We all know perfectly 
well, to take an analogous illustration, how 
to deal with the Prussian militarist class, the 
4 Junker caste," and so on. But we differ 
hopelessly on the treatment to be meted out 
to the National Service League. 

The outstanding feature of Chesterton s 
critical work is that it has no outstanding 
features which differentiate it from his other 
writings. He is always the journalist, writing 
for the day only. This leads him to treat all 
F 81 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

his subjects with special reference to his own 
day. Sometimes, as in the essay on Byron in 
Twelve Types, his own day is so much under 
discussion that poor Byron is left out in the 
cold to warm himself before a feebly nickering 
epigram. In writing of Dickens, Chesterton 
says that he " can be criticized as a contem 
porary of Bernard Shaw or Anatole France or 
C. F. G. Masterman . . . his name comes to 
the tongue when we are talking of Christian 
Socialists or Mr. Roosevelt or County Council 
Steamboats or Guilds of Play." And Chester 
ton does criticize Dickens as the contemporary 
of all these phenomena. In point of fact, 
to G.K.C. everybody is either a contemporary 
or a Victorian, and " I also was born a Vic 
torian." Little Dorrit sets him talking about 
Gissing, Hard Times suggests Herbert Spencer, 
American Notes leads to the mention of Maxim 
Gorky, and elsewhere Mr. George Moore and 
Mr. William Le Queux are brought in. If 
Chesterton happened to be writing about 
Dickens at a time when there was a certain 
amount of feeling about on the subject of rich 
Jews on the Rand, then the rich Jews on the 
Rand would appear in print forthwith, whether 
or not Dickens had ever depicted a rich Jew 
or the Rand, or the two in conjunction. 
Chesterton s first critical work of importance 

82 



CRITIC OF LARGE THINGS 

was Robert Browning in the " English Men of 
Letters Series." It might be imagined that 
the austere editorship of Lord Morley might 
have a de journalizing effect upon the style 
of the author. Far otherwise. The t s are 
crossed and the i s are dotted, so to speak, 
more carefully in Robert Browning than in 
works less fastidiously edited, but that is all. 
The book contains references to Gladstone 
and Home Rule, Parnell, Pigott, and Rud- 
yard Kipling, Cyrano de Bergerac, W. E. 
Henley, and the Tivoli. But of Browning s 
literary ancestors and predecessors there is 
little mention. 

It is conventional to shed tears of ink over 
the journalistic touch, on the ground that it 
must inevitably shorten the life of whatever 
book bears its marks. If there is anything in 
this condemnation, then Chesterton is doomed 
to forgetfulness, and his critical works will be 
the first to slip into oblivion, such being the 
nature of critical works in general. But if 
this condemnation holds true, it includes also 
Macaulay, R. L. Stevenson, Matthew Arnold, 
and how many others ! The journalistic touch, 
when it is good, means the preservation of a 
work. And Chesterton has that most essential 
part of a critic s mental equipment what we 
call in an inadequately descriptive manner, 

83 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

insight. He was no mean critic, whatever the 
tricks he played, who could pen these judg 
ments : 

The dominant passion of the artistic Celt, such as 
Mr. W. B. Yeats or Sir Edward Burne- Jones, lies in 
the word " escape " ; escape into a land where 
oranges grow on plum trees and men can sow what 
they like and reap what they enjoy. (G. F. Watts.) 

The supreme and most practical value of poetry 
is this, that in poetry, as in music, a note is struck 
which expresses beyond the power of rational state 
ment a condition of mind, and all actions arise from 
a condition of mind. (Robert Browning.) 

This essential comedy of Johnson s character is one 
which has never, oddly enough, been put upon the 
stage. There was in his nature one of the unconscious 
and even agreeable contradictions loved by the true 
comedian. ... I mean a strenuous and sincere 
belief in convention, combined with a huge natural 
inaptitude for observing it. (Samuel Johnson.) 

Rossetti could, for once in a way, write poetry 
about a real woman and call her " Jenny." One has a 
disturbed suspicion that Morris would have called her 
" Jehanne." (The Victorian Age in Literature.) 

These are a few samples collected at random, 
but they alone are almost sufficient to enthrone 
Chesterton among the critics. He has a won 
derful intuitive gift of feeling for the right 
metaphor, for the material object that best 
symbolizes an impression. But one thing he 

84 



CRITIC OF LARGE THINGS 

lacks. Put him among authors whose view 
of the universe is opposed to his own, and 
Chesterton instantly adopts an insecticide atti 
tude. The wit of Wilde moves him not, but 
his morals stir him profoundly ; Mr. Thomas 
Hardy is " a sort of village atheist brooding 
and blaspheming over the village idiot." Only 
occasionally has he a good word to say for the 
technique of an author whose views he dis 
likes. His critical work very largely consists 
of an attempt to describe his subjects views 
of the universe, and bring them into relation 
with his own. His two books on Charles 
Dickens are little more than such an attempt. 
When, a few years ago, Mr. Edwin Pugh, who 
had also been studying the " aspects of 
Dickens, came to the conclusion that the 
novelist was a Socialist, Chesterton waxed 
exceeding wrath and gave the offending book 
a severe wigging in The Daily News. 

He loves a good fighter, however, and to 
such he is always just. There are few philoso 
phies so radically opposed to the whole spirit 
of Chesterton s beliefs as that of John Stuart 
Mill. On religion, economic doctrine, and 
woman suffrage, Mill held views that are 
offensive to G.K.C. But Mill is nevertheless 
invariably treated by him with a respect which 
approximates to reverence. The principal 

85 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

case in point, however, is Mr. Bernard Shaw, 
who holds all Mill s beliefs, and waves them 
about even more defiantly. G.K.C. s admira 
tion in this case led him to write a whole book 
about G.B.S. in addition to innumerable 
articles and references. The book has the 
following characteristic introduction : 

Most people either say that they agree with 
Bernard Shaw or that they do not understand him. 
I am the only person who understands him, and I do 
not agree with him. 

Chesterton, of course, could not possibly 
agree with such an avowed and utter Puritan 
as Mr. Shaw. The Puritan has to be a revolu 
tionary, which means a man who pushes for 
ward the hand of the clock. Chesterton, as 
near as may be, is a Catholic Tory, who is a 
man who pushes back the hand of the clock. 
Superficially, the two make the clock show the 
same hour, but actually, one puts it on to a.m., 
the other back to p.m. Between the two is all 
the difference that is between darkness and 
day. 

Chesterton s point of view is distinctly like 
Samuel Johnson s in more respects than one. 
Both critics made great play with dogmatic 
assertions based on the literature that was 
before their time, at the expense of the litera 
ture that was to come after. In the book on 

86 



CRITIC OF LARGE THINGS 

Shaw, Chesterton strikes a blow at all inno 
vators, although he aims only at the obvious 
failures. 

The truth is that all feeble spirits naturally live in 
the future, because it is featureless ; it is a soft job ; 
you can make it what you like. The next age is blank, 
and I can paint it freely with my favourite colour. 
It requires real courage to face the past, because the 
past is full of facts which cannot be got over ; of 
men certainly wiser than we and of things done which 
we cannot do. I know I cannot write a poem as good 
as Lycidas. But it is always easy to say that the 
particular sort of poetry I can write will be the poetry 
of the future. 

Sentiments such as these have made many 
young experimentalists feel that Chesterton is 
a traitor to his youth and generation. Nobody 
will ever have the detachment necessary to 
appreciate futurist poetry until it is very 
much a thing of the past, because the near past 
is so much with us, and it is part of us, which 
the future is not. But fidelity to the good 
things of the past does not exonerate us 
from the task of looking for the germs of 
the good things of the future. The young 
poet of to-day sits at the feet of Sir 
Henry Newbolt, whose critical appreciation 
is undaunted by mere dread of new things, 
while to the same youth and to his friends it 
has simply never occurred, often enough, to 

87 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

think of Chesterton as a critic. It cannot be 
too strongly urged that an undue admiration 
of the distant past has sat like an incubus 
upon the chest of European literature, and 
Shakespeare s greatness is not in spite of his 
small Latin and less Greek," which probably 
contributed to it indirectly. Had Shakespeare 
been a classical scholar, he would almost cer 
tainly have modelled his plays on Seneca or 
Aeschylus, and the results would have been 
devastating. Addison s Cato, Johnson s Irene, 
and the dramas of Racine and Corneille are 
among the abysmal dullnesses mankind owes 
to its excessive estimation of the past. Men 
have always been too ready to forget that we 
inherit our ancestors bad points as well as 
their good ones. Ancestor-worship has de 
prived the Chinese of the capacity to create, 
it has seriously affected Chesterton s power to 
criticize. Chesterton s own generation has 
seen both the victory and the downfall of 
form in the novels of Mr. Galsworthy and 
Mr. H. G. Wells. It has witnessed fascinating 
experiments in stagecraft, some of which have 
assuredly succeeded. It has listened to new 
poets and wandered in enchanted worlds where 
no Victorians trod. A critic in sympathy with 
these efforts at reform would have written the 
last-quoted passage something like this : 

88 



CRITIC OF LARGE THINGS 

" The truth is that all feeble spirits natur 
ally live in the past, because it has no boun 
daries ; it is a soft job ; you can find in it 
what you like. The past ages are rank, and I 
can daub myself freely with whatever colours 
I extract. It requires no courage to face the 
past, because the past is full of facts which 
neutralize one another ; of men certainly no 
wiser than we, and of things done which we 
could not want to do. I know I cannot write 
a poem as good as Lycidas. But I also know 
that Milton could not write a poem as good as 
The Hound of Heaven or M Andrew s Hymn. 
And it is always easy to say that the particular 
kind of poetry I can write has been the poetry 
of some period of the past." 

But Chesterton didn t; quite the reverse. 

So that one comes to the sorrowful conclu 
sion that Chesterton is at his best, as a critic, 
when he is writing introductions, because then 
he has to leave the past alone. When he is 
writing an introduction to one of the works 
of a great Victorian (Dickens always excepted) 
he makes his subject stand out like a solitary 
giant, not necessarily because he is one, but 
on account of the largeness of the contours, 
the rough shaping, and the deliberate con 
trasts. He has written prefaces without num 
ber, and the British Museum has not a complete 

89 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

set of the books introduced by him. The 
Fables of JEsop, the Book of Job, Matthew 
Arnold s Critical Essays, a book of children s 
poems by Margaret Arndt, BoswelFs Johnson, 
a novel by Gorky, selections from Thackeray, 
a life of Mr. Will Crooks, and an anthology by 
young poets are but a few of the books he has 
explained. 

The last thing to be said on Chesterton as 
a critic is by way of illustration. For a series 
of books on artists, he wrote two, on William 
Blake and G. F. Watts. The first is all about 
mysticism, and so is the second. They are 
for the layman, not for the artist. They could 
be read with interest and joy by the colour 
blind. And, incidentally, they are extremely 
good criticism. Therein is the triumph of 
Chesterton. Give him a subject which he can 
relate with his own view of the universe, and 
space wherein to accomplish this feat, and he 
will succeed in presenting his readers with a 
vividly outlined portrait, tinted, of course, 
with his own personality, but indisputably 
true to life, and ornamented with fascinating 
little gargoyles. But put him among the 
bourgeoisie of literature and he will sulk like 
an angry child. 



90 



V 

THE 

HUMORIST AND THE POET 

\ 
THERE are innumerable books or let us say 

twenty on Mr. Bernard Shaw. They deal 
with him as a sociologist, a dramatist, or what 
not, but never as a humorist. There is a 
mass of books on Oscar Wilde, and they deal 
with everything concerned with him, except 
his humour. The great humorists as such- 
go unsung to their graves. That is because 
there is nothing so obvious as a joke, and 
nothing so difficult to explain. It requires a 
psychologist, like William James, or a phil 
osopher, like Bergson, to explain what a joke 
is, and then most of us cannot understand the 
explanation. A joke especially another man s 
joke is a thing to be handled delicately and 
reverently, for once the bloom is off, the joke 
mysteriously shrivels and vanishes. Trans 
lators are the sworn enemies of jokes ; the 
exigencies of their deplorable trade cause them 
to maul the poor little things about while they 

91 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

are putting them into new clothes, and the 
result is death, or at the least an appearance 
of vacuous senescence. But jokes are only the 
crystallization of humour ; it exists also in 
less tangible forms, such as style and all that 
collection of effects vaguely lumped together 
and called " atmosphere." Chesterton s pecu 
liar "atmosphere" rises like a sweet exhala 
tion from the very ink he sheds. And it is 
frankly indefinable, as all genuine style is. The 
insincere stylists can be reduced to a formula, 
because they work from a formula ; Pater may 
be brought down to an arrangement of adjec 
tives and commas, Doctor Johnson to a suc 
cession of rhythms, carefully pruned of excres 
cences, and so on, but the stylist who writes 
as God made him defies such analysis. Meredith 
and Shaw and Chesterton will remain mysteries 
even unto the latest research student of the 
Universities of Jena and Chicago. Patient 
students (something of the sort is already being 
done) will count up the number of nouns and 
verbs and commas in The Napoleon of Notting 
Hill and will express the result in such a form 
as this 




Chesterton (G. ^^ + v^21og e bn- 



sm 



But they will fail to touch the essential Ches- 

92 



HUMORIST AND POET 

terton, because one of the beauties of this 
form of analysis is that when the formula has 
been obtained, nobody is any the wiser as to 
the manner of its use. We know that James 
Smith is composed of beef and beer and bread, 
because all evidence goes to show that these are 
the only things he ever absorbs, but nobody 
has ever suggested that a synthesis of food 
stuffs will ever give us James Smith. 

Now the difficulty of dealing with the 
humour of Chesterton is that, in doing so, one 
is compelled to handle it, to its detriment. 
If in the chapter on his Romances any reader 
thought he detected the voice and the style of 
Chesterton, he is grievously mistaken. He 
only saw the scaffolding, which bears the same 
relation to the finished product as the skeleton 
bears to the human body. 

Consider these things : 

If you throw one bomb you are only a murderer ; 
but if you keep on persistently throwing bombs, you 
are in awful danger of at last becoming a prig. 

If we all floated in the air like bubbles, free to drift 
anywhere at any instant, the practical result would be 
that no one would have the courage to begin a con 
versation. 

If the public schools stuck up a notice it ought to 
be inscribed, " For the Fathers of Gentlemen only." 
In two generations they can do the trick. 

93 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Now these propositions are not merely 
snippets from a system of philosophy, pre 
sented after the manner of the admirers of 
Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. These are quota 
tions which display a quite exceptional power 
of surprising people. The anticlimaxes of the 
first two passages, the bold dip into the future 
at the expense of the past in the third are 
more than instances of mere verbal felicity. 
They indicate a writer capable of the humour 
which feeds upon daily life, and is therefore 
thoroughly democratic and healthy. For there 
are two sorts of humour ; that which feeds upon 
its possessor, Oscar Wilde is the supreme ex 
ample of this type of humorist, and that which 
draws its inspiration from its surroundings, 
of which the great exemplar is Dickens, and 
Chesterton is his follower. The first exhausts 
itself sooner or later, because it feeds on its 
own blood, the second is- inexhaustible. This 
theory may be opposed on the ground that 
humour is both internal and external in its 
origin. The supporters of this claim are 
invited to take a holiday in bed, or elsewhere 
away from the madding crowd, and then see 
how humorous they can be. 

Humour has an unfortunate tendency to 
stale. The joke of yesteryear already shows 
frays upon its sleeves. The wit of the early 

94 



HUMORIST AND POET 

volumes of Punch is in the last stages of 
decrepitude. Watch an actor struggling to 
conceal from his audience the fact that he is 
repeating one of Shakespeare s puns. We 
tolerate the humour of Congreve, not because 
it is thoroughly amusing, but because it has 
survived better than most. Humorous verse 
stands a slightly better chance of evoking 
smiles in its old age. There is always its un 
alterable verbal neatness ; tradition, too, lin 
gers more lovingly around fair shapes, and a 
poem is a better instance of form than a para 
graph. Mankind may grow blase, if it will, 
but as a poet of the comic, Chesterton will 
live long years. Take for example that last 
and worst of his novels The Flying Inn. Into 
this he has pitched with a fascinating reckless 
ness a quantity of poems, garnered from The 
New Witness and worthy of the immortality 
which is granted the few really good comic 
poems. There is the poem of Noah, with that 
stimulating line with which each stanza ends. 
The last one goes : 

But Noah he sinned, and we have sinned ; on tipsy feet 
we trod, 

Till a great big black teetotaller was sent to us for a rod, 

And you can t get wine at a P.S.A., or Chapel, or Eistedd 
fod ; 

For the Curse of Water has come again because of the 
wrath of God. 

95 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

And water is on the Bishop s board, and the Higher 

Thinker s shrine, 
But I don t care where the water goes if it doesn t get 

into the wine. 

There is a lunatic song against grocers, who 
are accused of nonconformity, and an equally 
lunatic song in several instalments on being 
a vegetarian : 

I am silent in the Club, 

I am silent in the pub, 
I am silent on a bally peak in Darien ; 

For I stuff away for life 

Shoving peas in with a knife, 
Because I am at heart a vegetarian. 

There is a joyous thing about a millionaire 
who lived the simple life, and a new version of 
" St. George for Merry England." Tea, cocoa, 
and soda-water are the subjects of another 
poem. The verses about Roundabout are very 
happy : 

Some say that when Sir Lancelot 
Went forth to find the Grail, 
Grey Merlin wrinkled up the roads, 
For hope that he should fail ; 
All roads led back to Lyonnesse 
And Camelot in the Vale, 
I cannot yield assent to this 
Extravagant hypothesis, 
The plain shrewd Briton will dismiss 
Such rumours (Daily Mail). 

96 



HUMORIST AND POET 

But in the streets of Roundabout 
Are no such factions found, 
Or theories to expound about 
Or roll upon the ground about, 
In the happy town of Roundabout, 
That makes the world go round. 

And there are lots more like this. 

Then there are the Ballades Urbane which 
appeared in the early volumes of The Eye- 
Witness. They have refrains with the true 
human note. Such as " But will you lend me 
two-and-six ? 

ENVOI 

Prince, I will not be knighted ! No ! 

Put up your sword and stow your tricks ! 

Offering the Garter is no go 

BUT WILL YOU LEND ME TWO-AND-SIX ? 

In prose Chesterton is seldom the mere jester; 
he will always have a moral or two, at the 
very least, at his fingers ends, or to be quite 
exact, at the end of his article. He is never 
quite irresponsible. He seldom laughs at a 
man who is not a reformer. 

Or let us take another set of illustrations, 

this time in prose. (Once more I protest that 

I shall not take the reader through all the 

works of Chesterton.) I mean the articles 

Our Note Book " which he contributed to 

The Illustrated London News. They are of a 

G 97 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

familiar type ; a series of paragraphs on some 
topical subject, with little spaces between 
them in order to encourage the weary reader. 
Chesterton wrote this class of article supremely 
well. He would seize on something apparently 
trivial, and exalt it into a symptom. When he 
had given the disease a name, he went for the 
quack doctors who professed to remedy it. 
He goes to Letchworth, in which abode of 
middle-class faddery he finds a teetotal public- 
house, pretending to look like the real thing, 
and calling itself "The Skittles Inn." He 
immediately raises the question, Can we dis 
sociate beer from skittles ? Then he widens 
out his thesis. 

Our life to-day is marked by perpetual attempts 
to revive old-fashioned things while omitting the 
human soul in them that made them more than 
fashions. 

And he concludes : 

I welcome a return to the rudeness of old times ; 
when Luther attacked Henry VIII for being fat ; 
and when Milton and his Dutch opponent devoted 
pages of their controversy to the discussion of which 
of them was the uglier. . . . The new controversial 
ists . . . call a man a physical degenerate, instead of 
calling him an ugly fellow. They say that red hair 
is the mark of the Celtic stock, instead of calling him 
" Carrots." 

98 



HUMORIST AND POET 

Of this class of fun Chesterton is an easy 
master. It makes him a fearsome contro 
versialist on the platform or in his favourite 
lists, the columns of a newspaper. But he 
uses his strength a little tyrannously. He is 
an adept at begging the question. The lost 
art called ignoratio elenchi has been privately 
rediscovered by him, to the surprise of many 
excellent and honest debaters, who have never 
succeeded in scoring the most obvious points 
in the face of Chesterton s power of emitting 
a string of epigrams and pretending it is a 
chain of argument. The case, in whatever 
form it is put, is always fresh and vigorous. 
Another epigrammatist, Oscar Wilde, in com 
parison with him may be said to have used 
the midnight oil so liberally in the prepara 
tion of his witticisms, that one might almost 
detect the fishy odour. But as with his prose 
so with his verses ; Chesterton s productions 
are so fresh that they seem to spring from his 
vitality rather than his intellect. They are 
generally a trifle ragged and unpolished as if, 
like all their author s productions, they were 
strangers to revision. And vitality demands 
boisterous movement, more even than coher 
ence. Sometimes the boisterousness is ap 
parently unsupported by the sense of the 
words. 

99 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

So you have gained the golden crowns and grasped the 

golden weather, 
The kingdoms and the hemispheres that all men buy 

and sell, 
But I will lash the leaping drum and swing the flaring 

feather, 

For the light of seven heavens that are lost to me like 
hell. 

Here the stanza actually goes with such a 
swing that the reader will in all probability 
not notice that the lines have no particular 
meaning. 

On the other hand, Chesterton s poetry has 
exuberant moments of sheer delight. In one 
of his essays he is lamenting the songlessness 
of modern life and suggests one or two chanties. 
Here they are : 
Chorus of Bank Clerks : 

Up, my lads, and lift the ledgers, sleep and ease are o er. 
Hear the Stars of Morning shouting : " Two and Two 

are Four." 
Though the creeds and realms are reeling, though the 

sophists roar, 

Though we weep and pawn our watches, Two and Two 
are Four. 

Chorus of Bank Clerks when there is a run on 
the bank : 

There s a run upon the Bank 

Stand away ! 

For the Manager s a crank and the Secretary drank, and 
the Upper Tooting Bank 

Turns to bay ! 

100 




HUMORIST AND POET 

Stand close : there is a run 

On the Bank. 

Of our ship, our royal one, let the ringing legend run, 
that she fired with every gun 
Ere she sank. 

The Post Office Hymn would begin as follows : 

O er London our letters are shaken like snow, 
Our wires o er the world like the thunderbolts go. 
The news that may marry a maiden in Sark, 
Or kill an old lady in Finsbury Park. 

Chorus (with a swing of joy and energy) : 
Or kill an old lady in Finsbury Park. 

The joke becomes simply immense when we 
picture the actual singing of the songs. 

But that is not the only class of humour of 
which Chesterton is capable. He can cut as 
well as hack. It is to be doubted whether any 
politician was ever addressed in lines more 
sarcastic than those of Antichrist., an ode to 
Mr. F. E. Smith. This gentleman, speaking 
on the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, remarked 
that it has shocked the conscience of every 
Christian community in Europe." It begins : 

Are they clinging to their crosses, 

F. E. Smith. 
Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses, 

Are they, Smith ? 

Do they, fasting, tramping, bleeding, 
Wait the news from this our city ? 
Groaning " That s the Second Reading ! " 
Hissing " There is still Committee ! " 

101 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

If the voice of Cecil falters, 

If McKenna s point has pith, 

Do they tremble for their altars ? 
Do they, Smith ? 

Then in Russia, among the peasants, 

Where Establishment means nothing 
And they never heard of Wales, 

Do they read it all in Hansard 
With a crib to read it with 

" Welsh Tithes : Dr. Clifford answered." 
Really, Smith ? 

The final verse is : 

It would greatly, I must own, 

Soothe me, Smith, 
If you left this theme alone, 

Holy Smith ! 
For your legal cause or civil 

You fight well and get your fee ; 
For your God or dream or devil 

You will answer, not to me. 
Talk about the pews and steeples 

And the Cash that goes therewith ! 
But the souls of Christian peoples . . . 
Chuck it, Smith 1 

The wilting sarcasm of this poem is a feature 
which puts it with a few others apart from the 
bulk of Chesterton s poems. Even as bellicosity 
and orthodoxy are two of the brightest threads 
which run through the whole texture of his 
work, so Poems of Pugnacity (as Ella Wheeler 
Wilcox would say) and religious verses consti 
tute the largest part of the poetic works of 

102 



HUMORIST AND POET 

G.K.C. His first book of verses after Grey 
beards at Play The Wild Knight contained a 
bloodthirsty poem about the Battle of Gibeon, 
written with strict adhesion to the spirit of the 
Old Testament. It might have been penned 
by a survivor, glutted with blood and duly 
grateful to the God of his race for the solar and 
lunar eccentricities which made possible the 
extermination of the five kings of the Amorites. 
In 1911 came The Ballad of the White Horse, 
which is all about Alfred, according to the 
popular traditions embodied in the elementary 
history books, and, in particular, the Battle 
of Ethandune. How Chesterton revels in that 
Homeric slaughter ! The words blood and 
bloody punctuate the largest poem of G.K.C. 
to the virtual obliteration in our memory of 
the fine imagery, the occasional tendernesses, 
and the blustering aggressiveness of some of 
the metaphors and similes. Not many men 
would have the nerve, let alone the skill, to 
write : 

And in the last eclipse the sea 

Shall stand up like a tower, 
Above all moons made dark and riven, 
Hold up its foaming head in heaven, 

And laugh, knowing its hour. 

But, at the same time, this poem contains very 
touching and beautiful lines. The Ballad of 

103 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

the White Horse is an epic of the struggle 
between Christian and Pagan. One of the 
essentials of an epic is that its men should be 
decent men, if they cannot be heroes. The 
Iliad would have been impossible if it had 
occurred to Homer to introduce the Govern 
ment contractors to the belligerent powers. 
All the point would have gone out of Orlando 
Furioso if it had been the case that the madness 
of Orlando was the delirium tremens of an 
habitual drunkard. Chesterton recognizing 
this truth makes the pagans of the White 
Horse behave like gentlemen. There is a 
beautiful little song put into the mouth of one 
of them, which is in its way a perfect expres 
sion of the inadequacy of false gods. 

There is always a thing forgotten 

When all the world goes well ; 
A thing forgotten, as long ago 
When the gods forgot the mistletoe, 
And soundless as an arrow of snow 

The arrow of anguish fell. 

The thing on the blind side of the heart, 

On the wrong side of the door, 
The green plant groweth, menacing 
Almighty lovers in the spring ; 
There is always a forgotten thing, 

And love is not secure. 

The sorrow behind these lines is more mov- 

104 



HUMORIST AND POET 

ing, because more sincere, than the lines of 
that over-quoted verse of Swinburne s : 

From too much love of living, 
From hope and fear set free, 
We thank with brief thanksgiving 
Whatever gods there be 
That no life lives for ever, 
That dead men rise up never, 
That even the weariest river 
Winds somewhere safe to sea. 

This is insincere, because a pagan (as Swin 
burne was) could have committed suicide had 
he really felt these things. Swinburne, like 
most modern pagans, really hated priestcraft 
when he thought he was hating God. Ches 
terton s note is truer. He knows that the 
pagan has all the good things of life but one, 
and that only an exceptionally nice pagan 
knows he lacks that much. 

And so one might go on mining the White 
Horse, for it contains most things, as a good 
epic should. Two short stanzas, however, 
should be quoted, whatever else is omitted, 
for the sake of their essential Christianity, 
their claim that a man may make a fool of 
himself for Christ s sake, whatever the bishops 
have to say about it. 

The men of the East may spell the stars, 

And times and triumphs mark, 
But the men signed of the Cross of Christ 

Go gaily in the dark. 

105 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

The men of the East may search the scrolls 

For sure fates and fame, 
But the men that drink the blood of God 

Go singing to their shame. 

In his last volume of Poems (1915) Chester 
ton presents us with a varied collection of 
works, written at any time during the last 
twelve or so years. The pugnacious element 
is present in Lepanto, through the staccato 
syllables of which we hear drum-taps and men 
cheering. There is a temptation to treat 
Lepanto, and indeed most of Chesterton s 
poems, with special reference to their tech 
nique, but we must resist this temptation, with 
tears if need be, and with prayer, for to give 
way to it would be to commit a form of vivi 
section. G.K.C. is not a text, praise be, and 
whether he lives or dies, long may he be spared 
the hands of an editor or interpreter who is 
also an irrepressible authority on anapaests 
and suchlike things. He is a poet, and a con 
siderable poet, not because of his strict atten 
tion to the rules of prosody, but because he 
cannot help himself, and the rules in question 
are for the persons who can, the poets by 
deliberate intention, the writers who polish 
unceasingly. Chesterton has more impulse 
than finish, but he has natural gifts of rhythm 
and the effective use of words which more or 

106 



HUMORIST AND POET 

less (according to the reader s taste) compen 
sate for his refusal or his incapacity to take 
pains. 

Finally there are the religious poems. From 
these we can best judge the reality of Chester 
ton s poetic impulse, for here, knowing that 
affectation would be almost indecent, he has 
expressed what he had to express with a care 
denied to most of his other works. In one of 
his essays, G.K.C. exults in that matchless 
phrase of Vaughan, " high humility." He has 
both adopted and adapted this quality, and 
the results are wonderful. In The Wise Men 
occurs this stanza : 

The Child that was ere worlds begun 

(. . . We need bu* walk a little way, 
We need but see a latch undone . . .) 
The Child that played with moon and sun 
Is playing with a little hay, 

The superb antithesis leaves one struggling 
against that involuntary little gasp which is 
a reader s first tribute to a fine thought. He 
could be a great hymn writer, if he would. 
One of his poems, in fact, has found its way 
into The English Hymnal, where it competes 
(if one may use the word of a sacred song) 
with Recessional for the favour of congrega 
tions. If we take a glance at a few of the finest 
hymns, we shall find that they share certain 

107 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

obvious qualities : bold imagery, the vocabu 
lary of conflict, an attitude of humility that 
is very nearly also one of great pride, and 
certain tricks of style. And when we look 
through Chesterton s poems generally, we shall 
find that these are exactly the qualities they 
possess. 



108 



VI 

THE 
RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

IN his book on William Blake, Chesterton says 
that he is " personally quite convinced that if 
every human being lived a thousand years, 
every human being would end up either in 
utter pessimistic scepticism or in the Catholic 
creed." In course of time, in fact, everybody 
would have to decide whether they preferred 
to be an intellectualist or a mystic. A debauch 
of intellectualism, lasting perhaps nine hun 
dred and fifty years, is a truly terrible thing 
to contemplate. Perhaps it is safest to assert 
that if our lives were considerably lengthened, 
there would be more mystics and more mad 
men. 

To Chesterton modern thought is merely 
the polite description of a noisy crowd of 
persons proclaiming that something or other 
is wrong. Mr. Bernard Shaw denounces meat 
and has been understood to denounce marriage. 
Ibsen is said to have anathematized almost 

109 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

everything (by those who have not read his 
works). Mr. MacCabe and Mr. Blatchford 
think that, on the whole, there is no God, and 
Tolstoy told us that nearly everything we did, 
and quite all we wanted to do, was opposed 
to the spirit of Christ s teaching. Auberon 
Herbert disapproved of law, and John David 
son disapproved of life. Herbert Spencer 
objected to government, Passive Resisters to 
State education, and various educational re 
formers to education of any description. There 
are people who would abolish our spelling, our 
clothing, our food and, most emphatically, 
our drink. Mr. H. G. Wells adds the finishing 
touch to this volume of denials, by blandly 
suggesting in an appendix to his Modern 
Utopia, headed "Scepticism of the Instrument," 
that our senses are so liable to err, that we can 
never be really sure of anything at all. This 
spirit of denial is extraordinarily infectious. 
A man begins to suspect what he calls the 
" supernatural." He joins an ethical society, 
and before he knows where he is, he is a vege 
tarian. The rebellious moderns have a curious 
tendency to flock together in self-defence, even 
when they have nothing in common. The 
mere aggregation of denials rather attracts 
the slovenly and the unattached. The lack 
of positive dogma expressed by such a coalition 

110 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

encourages the sceptic and the uneducated, 
who do not realize that the deliberate suppres 
sion of dogma is itself a dogma of extreme 
arrogance. We trust too much to the label, 
nowadays, and the brief descriptions we attach 
to ourselves have a gradually increasing con 
notation. In politics for example, the con 
servative creed, which originally contained 
the single article that aristocracy, wealth and 
government should be in the same few hands, 
now also implies adhesion to the economic 
doctrine of protection, and the political doc 
trine that unitary government is preferable to 
federal. The liberal creed, based principally 
upon opposition to the conservative, and to a 
lesser degree upon disrespect for the Estab 
lished Church, has been enlarged concurrently 
with the latter. The average liberal or con 
servative now feels himself in honour bound 
to assert or to deny political dogmas out of 
sheer loyalty to his party. This does not make 
for sanity. The only political creed in which 
a man may reasonably expect to remain sane 
is Socialism, which is catholic and not the 
least dependent upon other beliefs. Apart 
from the inconsiderable number of Socialists, 
the average politician follows in the footsteps 
of those gentlemen already mentioned. He is 
not allowed to believe, so he contents himself 

111 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

with a denial of the other side s promises. As 
sertion is infinitely more brain-wearing than 
denial. 

Side by side with the increase in those who 
deny is a growth in the numbers of those who 
come to regard apathy, suspended judgment, 
or a lack of interest in a religious matter as a 
state of positive belief. There are agnostics 
quite literally all over the place. Belief peters 
down into acceptance, acceptance becomes a 
probability, a probability declines into a reason 
able doubt, and a reasonable doubt drifts into 
" it is highly conjectural and indeed extremely 
unlikely," or something of that sort. Tolerance 
was once an instrument for ensuring that truth 
should not be suppressed ; it is now an excuse 
for refusing to bother. There is, in fact, a 
growing disrespect for truth. A great many 
men went to the stake years ago rather than 
admit the possibility that they were wrong ; 
they protested, so far as human endurance 
allowed them to protest, that they were 
orthodox and that their persecutors, and not 
they, were the heretics. To-day a bunch of 
Cambridge men calls itself "The Heretics" 
and imagines it has found a clever title. At 
the same time there is an apparent decline in 
the power to believe. The average politician 
(the principal type of twentieth-century propa- 

112 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

gandist) hardly ever makes a speech which 
does not contain one at least of the following 
phrases : 

4 I may be mistaken, but it seems to me 
that . . ." 

We are all subject to correction, but as 
far as we know ." 



In this necessarily imperfect world ..." 
4 So far as one is able to judge ..." 

4 Appearances are notoriously deceptive, 
but . . ." 

Human experience is necessarily limited 
to " 

LU ... 

We can never be really sure ..." 
" Pilate asked, What is truth ? Ah, my 
brethren, what indeed ? " 

The best minds of the country have failed 
to come to an agreement on this question; 
one can only surmise . . ." 

4 Art is long and life is short. Art to-day 
is even longer than it used to be." 

Now the politician, to do him justice, has 
retained the courage of his convictions to a 
greater extent than the orthodox believer in 
God. Men are still prepared to make Home 
Rule the occasion of bloodshed, or to spend 
the midnight hours denouncing apparent politi- 
H 113 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

cal heresies. But whereas the politician, like 
the orthodox believer once pronounced apolo 
getics, they now merely utter apologies. To 
day, equipped as never before with the heavy 
artillery of argument in the shape of Higher 
Criticism, research, blue-books, statistics, cheap 
publications, free libraries, accessible informa 
tion, public lectures, and goodness only knows 
what else, the fighting forces of the spiritual 
and temporal decencies lie drowsing as in a 
club-room, placarded " Religion and politics 
must not be discussed here." 

All this, with the exception of the political 
references, is a summary of Chesterton s claim 
that a return to orthodoxy is desirable and 
necessary. It will be found at length in Heretics 
and in the first chapters of Orthodoxy, and 
sprinkled throughout all his writings of a later 
date than 1906 or so. He protests on more 
than one occasion against Mr. Shaw s epigram, 
which seems to him to contain the essence of 
all that is wrong to-day, " The golden rule 
is that there is no golden rule." Chesterton 
insists that there is a golden rule, that it is a 
very old one, and that it is known to a great 
many people, most of whom belong to the 
working classes. 

In his argument that, on the whole, the 
masses are (or were) right about religion, and 

114 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

that the intellectuals are wrong, Chesterton is 
undoubtedly at his most bellicose and his 
sincerest. His is the pugnacity that prefers to 
pull down another s banner rather than to 
raise his own. His " defences " in The Defen 
dant, and the six hundred odd cases made out 
by him in the columns of The Daily News are 
largely and obviously inspired by the wish, 
metaphorically speaking, to punch somebody s 
head. The fact that he is not a mere bully 
appears in the appeal to common decency 
which Chesterton would be incapable of omit 
ting from an article. Nevertheless he prefers 
attack to defence. In war, the offensive is 
infinitely more costly than the defensive. 
But in controversy this is reversed. The 
opener of a debate is in a much more difficult 
position than his opponent. The latter need 
only criticize the former s case ; he is not 
compelled to disclose his own defences. Ches 
terton used to have a grand time hoisting 
people on their own petards, and letting forth 
strings of epigrams at the expense of those 
from whom he differed, and only incidentally 
revealing his own position. Then, as he tells 
us in the preface to Orthodoxy, when he had 
published the saltatory series of indictments 
entitled Heretics, a number of his critics said, 
in effect, " Please, Mr. Chesterton, what are 

115 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

we to believe ? " Mr. G. S. Street, in particu 
lar, begged for enlightenment. G.K.C. joy 
ously accepted the invitation, and wrote Ortho 
doxy, his most brilliant book. 

There are few works in the English language 
the brilliancy of which is so sustained. Ortho 
doxy is a rapid torrent of epigrammatically 
expressed arguments. Chesterton s method 
in writing it is that of the digger wasp. This 
intelligent creature carries on the survival of 
the fittest controversy by paralyzing its oppo 
nent first, and then proceeding to lay the 
eggs from which future fitness will proceed in 
the unresisting but still living body. Chester 
ton begins by paralyzing his reader, by 
savagely attacking all the beliefs which the 
latter, if he be a modern and a sceptic, prob 
ably regards as first principles. Tolerance is 
dismissed, as we have just seen, as a mere 
excuse for not caring. Reason, that awful 
French goddess, is shown to be another 
apology. Nietzsche and various other authors 
to whom some of us have bent the knee are 
slaughtered without misery. Then Chesterton 
proceeds to the argument, the reader being by 
this time receptive enough to swallow a 
camel, on the sole condition that G.K.C. has 
previously slightly treacled the animal. 

Perhaps it would be more accurate to assert 

116 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

that at this point Chesterton pretends to 
begin his argument. As a matter of strict fact 
he only describes his adventures in Fairyland, 
which is all the earth. He tells us of his 
profound astonishment at the consistent re 
currence of apples on apple trees, and at the 
general jolliness of the earth. He describes, 
very beautifully, some of the sensations of 
childhood making the all-embracing discovery 
that things are what they seem, and the even 
more joyful feeling of pretending that they are 
not, or that they will cease to be at any 
moment. A young kitten will watch a large 
cushion, which to it is a very considerable 
portion of the universe, flying at it without 
indicating any very appreciable surprise. A 
child, in the same way, would not be surprised 
if his house suddenly developed wings and 
flew away. Chesterton cultivated this attitude 
of always expecting to be surprised by the 
most natural things in the world, until it 
became an obsession, and a part of his journal 
istic equipment. In a sense Chesterton is the 
everlasting boy, the Undergraduate Who 
Would Not Grow Up. There must be few 
normally imaginative town-bred children to 
whom the pointed upright area-railings do not 
appear an unsearchable armoury of spears or 
as walls of protective flames, temporarily frozen 

117 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

black so that people should be able to enter 
and leave their house. Every child knows that 
the old Norse story of a sleeping Brunnhilde 
encircled by flames is true ; to him or her, 
there is a Brunnhilde in every street, and the 
child knows that there it always has a chance 
of being the chosen Siegfried. But because 
this view of life is so much cosier than that of 
the grown-ups, Chesterton clings to his child 
hood s neat little universe and weeps patheti 
cally when anybody mentions Herbert Spencer, 
and makes faces when he hears the word 
Newton. He insists on a fair dole of surprises. 
" Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts 
in their stockings gifts of toys and sweets. 
Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when 
he put in my stockings the gift of two miracu 
lous legs ? 

Now this fairyland business is frankly over 
done. Chesterton conceives of God, having 
carried the Creation as far as this world, sitting 
down to look at the new universe in a sort of 
ecstasy. " And God saw every thing that he 
had made, and, behold it was very good." He 
enjoyed His new toy immensely, and as He 
sent the earth, spinning round the sun, His 
pleasure increased. So He said " Do it again 
every time the sun had completed its course, 
and laughed prodigiously, and behaved like a 

118 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

happy child. And so He has gone on to this 
day saying " Do it again to the sun and the 
moon and the stars, to the animal creation, 
and the trees, and every living thing. So 
Chesterton pictures God, giving His name to 
what others, including Christians, call natural 
law, or the laws of God, or the laws of gravita 
tion, conservation of energy, and so on, but 
always laws. For which reason, one is com 
pelled to assume that in his opinion God 
is now [1915] saying to Himself, " There s 
another bloody war, do it again, sun," and 
gurgling with delight. It is dangerous to 
wander in fairyland, as Chesterton has him 
self demonstrated, " one might meet a fairy." 
It is not safe to try to look God in the face. 
A prophet in Israel saw the glory of Jehovah, 
and though He was but the God of a small 
nation, the prophet s face shone, and, so great 
was the vitality he absorbed from the great 
Source that he was an hundred and twenty 
years old when he died : his eye was not dim, 
nor his natural force abated." That is the 
reverent Hebrew manner of conveying the 
glory of God. But Chesterton, cheerfully 
playing toss halfpenny among the fairies, sees 
an idiot child, and calls it God. 

Fortunately for the argument, Chesterton 
has no more to say about his excursion in 

119 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Fairyland after his return. He goes on to 
talk about the substitutes which people have 
invented for Christianity. The Inner Light 
theory has vitriol sprayed upon it. Marcus 
Aurelius, it is explained, acted according to 
the Inner Light. " He gets up early in the 
morning, just as our own aristocrats leading 
the Simple Life get up early in the morning ; 
because such altruism is much easier than 
stopping the games in the amphitheatre or 
giving the English people back their land." 
The present writer does not profess any 
ability to handle philosophic problems philo 
sophically ; it seems to him, however, that 
if Chesterton had been writing a few years 
later, he would have attempted to extinguish 
the latest form of the Inner Light, that 
intuition which has been so much asso 
ciated with M. Bergson s teachings. 

The Inner Light is finally polished off as 
follows : 

Of all conceivable forms of enlightenment the worst 
is what these people call the Inner Light. Of all 
horrible religions the most horrible is the worship 
of the god within. Any one who knows anybody 
knows how it would work ; anybody who knows any 
one from the Higher Thought Centre knows how it 
does work. That Jones should worship the god 
within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones 
shall worship Jones. . . . Christianity came into the 

120 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man 
has not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, 
to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine 
company and a divine captain. 

Continuing his spiritual autobiography, 
Chesterton describes his gradual emergence 
from the wonted agnosticism of sixteen through 
the mediumship of agnostic literature. Once 
again that remark of Bacon s showed itself 
to be true, " A little philosophy inclineth 
man s mind to atheism, but depth in philo 
sophy bringeth men s minds about to religion." 
A man may read Huxley and Bradlaugh, who 
knew their minds, and call himself an agnostic. 
But when it comes to reading their followers, 
there s another story to tell. What especially 
struck Chesterton was the wholesale self- 
contradictoriness of the literature of agnos 
ticism. One man would say that Christianity 
was so harmful that extermination was the 
least that could be desired for it, and another 
would insist that it had reached a harmless 
and doddering old age. A writer would assert 
that Christianity was a religion of wrath and 
blood, and would point to the Inquisition, and 
to the religious wars which have at one time 
or another swept over the civilized world. 
But by the time the reader s blood was up, he 
would come across some virile atheist s pro- 

121 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

clamation of the feeble, mattoid character of 
the religion in question, as illustrated by its 
quietist saints, the Quakers, the Tolstoyans, 
and non-resisters in general. When he had 
cooled down, he would run into a denunciation 
of the asceticism of Christianity, the monastic 
system, hair-shirts, and so on. Then he would 
come across a sweeping condemnation of its 
sensual luxuriousness, its bejewelled chalices, 
its pompous rituals, the extravagance of its 
archbishops, and the like. Christianity " was 
abused for being too plain and for being too 
coloured." And then the sudden obvious truth 
burst upon Chesterton, What if Christianity 
was the happy mean ? 

Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane 
and all its critics that are mad in various ways. 
I tested this idea by asking myself whether there 
was about any of the accusers anything morbid that 
might explain the accusation. I was startled to find 
that this key fitted a lock. For instance, it was 
certainly odd that the modern world charged Christi 
anity at once with bodily austerity and with artistic 
pomp. But then it was also odd, very odd, that the 
modern world itself combined extreme bodily luxury 
with an extreme absence of artistic pomp. The modern 
man thought Becket s robes too rich and his meals 
too poor. But then the modern man was really 
exceptional in history. No man before ever ate such 
elaborate dinners in such ugly clothes. The modern 
man found the church too simple exactly where 

122 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

modern life is too complex ; he found the church too 
gorgeous exactly where modern life is too dingy. The 
man who disliked the plain fasts and feasts was mad 
on entrees. The man who disliked vestments wore 
a pair of preposterous trousers. And surely if there 
was any insanity involved in the matter at all it was 
in the trousers, not in the simply falling robe. If 
there was any insanity at all, it was in the extravagant 
entrees, not in the bread and wine. 

Nevertheless, Christianity was centrifugal 
rather than centripetal ; it was not a mere 
average, but a centre of gravity; not a com 
promise, but a conflict. Christ was not half- 
God and half-man, like Hercules, but " perfect 
God and perfect man." Man was not only 
the highest, but also the lowest. " The 
Church was positive on both points. One can 
hardly think too little of one s self. One can 
hardly think too much of one s soul." 

At this point agreement with Mr. Chesterton 
becomes difficult. Christianity, he tells us, 
comes in with a flaming sword and performs 
neat acts of bisection. It separates the sinner 
from the sin, and tells us to love the former 
and hate the latter. He also tells us that no 
pagan would have thought of this. Leaving 
aside the question whether or not Plato was 
a Christian, it may be pointed out that whereas 
Chesterton condemns Tolstoyanism whenever 
he recognizes it, he here proclaims Tolstoy s 

123 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

doctrine. On the whole, however, the mild 
perverseness of the chapter on The Paradoxes 
of Christianity leaves its major implications 
safe. It does not matter greatly whether we 
prefer to regard Christianity as a centre of 
gravity, or a point of balance. We need only 
pause to note Chesterton personifies this 
dualism. The Napoleon of Notting Hill is the 
arrangement of little bits of iron the inhabi 
tants of London, in this case around the two 
poles of a fantastic magnet, of which one is 
Adam Wayne, the fanatic, and the other, 
Auberon Quin, the humorist. In The Ball and 
the Cross the diagram is repeated. James 
Turnbull, the atheist, and Evan Maclan, the 
believer, are the two poles. We speak in a 
loose sort of way of opposite poles when we 
wish to express separation. But, in point of 
fact, they symbolize connection far more 
exactly. They are absolutely interdependent. 
The whole essence of a North and a South Pole 
is that we, knowing where one is, should be 
able to say where the other is. Nobody has 
ever suggested a universe in which the North 
Pole wandered about at large. This is the 
idea which Chesterton seems to have captured 
and introduced into his definition of Chris 
tianity. 

Democracy, to Chesterton, is the theory 

124 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

that one man is as good as another ; Chris 
tianity, he finds, is the virtual sanctification 
by supernatural authority of democracy. He 
points out the incompatibility of political 
democracy, for example, with the determinism 
to which Mr. Blatchford s logical atheism has 
brought him. If man is the creature of his 
heredity and his environment, as Mr. Blatch- 
ford asserts, and if a slum-bred heredity and 
a slum environment do not make for high 
intelligence, then obviously it is against the 
best interests of the State to allow the slum 
inhabitant to vote. On the other hand, it is 
entirely to the best interests of the State to 
entrust its affairs to the aristocracy, whose 
breeding and environment gives it an enor 
mous amount of intelligence. Christianity, by 
proclaiming that every man s body is the 
temple of the Holy Ghost, insists both upon 
the necessity of abolishing the slums and of 
honouring the slum-dwellers as sharers with 
the rest of humanity in a common sonship. 
This is the case for Socialism, it may be pointed 
out parenthetically, and Chesterton has let it 
slip past him. He insists that orthodoxy is 
the best conceivable guardian of liberty, for 
the somewhat far-fetched reason that no 
believer in miracles would have such a 
deep and sincere faith in the incurable routine 

125 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

of the cosmos " as to cling to the theory that 
men should not have the liberty to work 
changes. If a man believed in the freedom of 
God, in fact, he would have to believe in the 
freedom of man. The obvious answer to 
which is that he generally doesn t. Christianity 
made for eternal vigilance, Chesterton main 
tains, whereas Buddhism kept its eye on the 
Inner Light which means, in fact, kept it 
shut. In proof, or at least in confirmation of 
this, he points to the statues of Christian 
saints and of the Buddha. The former keep 
their eyes open wide, the latter keep their 
eyes firmly closed. Vigilance, however, does 
not always make for liberty the vigilance 
of the Inquisition, for example. Leaving out 
of account this and other monstrous excep 
tions, we might say spiritual liberty, perhaps, 
but not political liberty, not, at any rate, since 
the days of Macchiavelli, and the divorce of 
Church and State. 

By insisting specially on the immanence of God 
we get introspection, self-isolation, quietism, social 
indifference Tibet. By insisting specially on the 
transcendence of God we get wonder, curiosity, moral 
and political adventure, religious indignation Chris 
tendom. Insisting that God is inside man, man 
is always inside himself. By insisting that God 
transcends man, man has transcended himself. 

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RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

In concluding the book, Chesterton joyously 
refutes a few anti-Christian arguments by 
means of his extraordinary knack of seeing 
the large and obvious, and therefore generally 
overlooked things. He believes in Christianity 
because he is a rationalist, and the evidence 
in its favour has convinced him. The argu 
ments with which he deals are these. That 
men are much like beasts, and probably 
related to them. Answer : yes, but men 
are also quite wonderfully unlike them in 
many important respects. That primeval 
religion arose in ignorance and fear. Answer : 
we know nothing about prehistoric man, 
because he was prehistoric, therefore we can 
not say where he got his religion from. But 
" the whole human race has a tradition of the 
Fall." And so on : the argument that Christ 
was a poor sheepish and ineffectual professor 
of a quiet life is answered by the naming 
energy of His earthly mission ; the suggestion 
that Christianity belongs to the Dark Ages 
is countered by the historical fact that it 
was the one path across the Dark Ages 
that was not dark." It was the path that 
led from Roman to modern civilization, and 
we are here because of it. And the book 
ends with a peroration that might be likened 
to a torrent, were it not for the fact that 

127 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

torrents are generally narrow and shallow. 
It is a most remarkable exhibition of energy, 
a case from which flippancies and irrelevancies 
have been removed, and where the central 
conviction advances irresistibly. Elsewhere 
in the book Chesterton had been inconsequent, 
darting from point to point, lunging at an 
opponent one moment, formulating a theory 
in the next, and producing an effect which, if 
judged by sample, would be considered bizarre 
and undirected. The book contains a few 
perversities, of course. The author attempts 
to rebut the idea " that priests have blighted 
societies with bitterness and gloom," by point 
ing out that in one or two priest-ridden 
countries wine and song and dance abound. 
Yes, but if people are jollier in France and 
Spain and Italy than in savage Africa, it is 
due not to the priests so much as to the 
climate which makes wine cheap and an 
open-air life possible. No amount of priests 
would be able to set the inhabitants of the 
Belgian Congo dancing around a maypole 
singing the while glad songs handed down by 
their fathers. No amount of priests would be 
able to make the festive Eskimo bask in the 
sun and sing in chorus when there wasn t any 
sun and it was altogether too cold to open 
their mouths wide in the open air. In fact the 

128 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

priests are not the cause of the blight where 
it exists, just as they are not the cause of the 
jolliness, when there is any. But Orthodoxy is 
Chesterton s sincerest book. It is perhaps the 
only one of the whole lot in the course of which 
he would not be justified in repeating a remark 
which begins one of the Tremendous Trifles, 
Every now and then I have introduced into 
my essays an element of truth." 

Twice upon a time there was a Samuel 
Butler who wrote exhilaratingly and died and 
left the paradoxical contents of his notebooks 
to be published by posterity. The first (i.e. of 
Hudibras, not of Erewhon) had many lively 
things to say on the question of orthodoxy, 
being the forerunner of G.K.C. And I am 
greatly tempted to treat Samuel Butler as an 
ancestor to be described at length. Chesterton 
might well have said, " It is a dangerous thing 
to be too inquisitive, and search too narrowly 
into a true Religion, for 50,000 Bethshemites 
were destroyed only for looking into the Ark 
of the Covenant, and ten times as many have 
been ruined for looking too curiously into that 
Booke in which that Story is recorded -in fact 
in Magic he very nearly did say the same thing. 
He would have liked (as who would not ?) to 
have been the author of the saying that 
Repentant Teares are the waters upon which 
I 129 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

the Spirit of God moves," or that " There is 
no better Argument to prove that the Scriptures 
were written by Divine Inspiration, than that 
excellent saying of our Savior, If any man 
will go to Law with thee for thy cloke, give 
him thy Coate also." He might well have 
written dozens of those puns and aphorisms of 
Butler which an unkind fate has omitted from 
the things we read, and even from the things 
we quote. But Butler provides an answer to 
Chesterton, for he was an intelligent anticipa 
tor who foresaw exactly what would happen 
when orthodoxy, which is to say the injunc 
tion to shout with the larger crowd, should be 
proclaimed as the easiest way out of religious 
difficulties. Before a reader has finally made 
up his mind on Orthodoxy (and it is highly 
desirable that he should do so), let him con 
sider two little texts : 

" They that profess Religion and believe it 
consists in frequenting of Sermons, do, as if 
they should say They have a great desire to 
serve God, but would faine be perswaded to it. 
Why should any man suppose that he pleases 
God by patiently hearing an Ignorant fellow 
render Religion ridiculous ? 

" He [a Catholic] prefers his Church merely 
for the Antiquity of it, and cares not how 

130 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

sound or rotten it be, so it be but old. He takes 
a liking to it as some do to old Cheese, only for 
the blue Rottenness of it. If he had lived in 
the primitive Times he had never been a 
Christian ; for the Antiquity of the Pagan 
and Jewish Religion would have had the same 
Power over him against the Christian, as the 
old Roman has against the modern Reforma 
tion." 

Here we leave Samuel Butler. The majority 
stands the largest chance of being right through 
the sheer operation of the law of averages. 
But somehow one does not easily imagine 
a mob passing through the gate that is narrow 
and the way that is narrow. One prefers to 
think of men going up in ones and twos, perhaps 
even in loneliness, and rejoicing at the strange 
miracle of judgment that all their friends 
should be assembled at the journey s end. 

But the final criticism of Chesterton s Ortho 
doxy is that it is not orthodox. He claims 
that he is " concerned only to discuss . . . the 
central Christian theology (sufficiently sum 
marized in the Apostles Creed)" and, "When 
the word orthodoxy is used here it means 
the Apostles Creed, as understood by every 
body calling himself Christian until a very 
short time ago and the general historic con- 

131 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

duct of those who held such a creed." In other 
words he counts as orthodox Anglicans, Roman 
Catholics, Orthodox Russians, Nonconformists, 
Lutherans, Calvinists, and all manner of queer 
fish, possibly Joanna Southcott, Mrs. Annie 
Besant, and Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy. He might 
even, by stretching a point or two (which is 
surely permissible by the rules of their game), 
rope in the New Theologians. Now this may 
be evidence of extraordinary catholicity, but 
not of orthodoxy. Chesterton stands by and 
applauds the Homoousians scalping the Homoi- 
ousians, but he is apparently willing to leave 
the Anglican and the Roman Catholic on the 
same plane of orthodoxy, which is absurd. We 
cannot all be right, even the Duke in Magic 
would not be mad enough to assert that. And 
the average Christian would absolutely refuse 
his adherence to a statement of orthodoxy that 
left the matter of supreme spiritual authority 
an open question. 

In the fifteenth century practically every 
Englishman would have declared with some 
emphasis that it lay in the Pope of Rome. In 
the twentieth century practically every Eng 
lishman would declare with equal emphasis 
that it did not. This change of opinion was 
accompanied by considerable ill-feeling on 
both sides, and was, as it were, illuminated by 

132 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

burning martyrs. The men of both parties 
burned in both an active and a passive sense. 
Those charming Tudor sisters, Bloody Mary 
(as the Anglicans call her) and Bloody Bess 
(as the Roman Catholics affectionately name 
her) left a large smudge upon accepted ideas 
of orthodoxy ; charred human flesh was a 
principal constituent of it. The mark remains, 
the differences are far greater, but, to Chester 
ton, both Anglican and Roman Catholic are 
4 orthodox." Of such is the illimitable ortho 
doxy of an ethical society, or of a body of 
Theosophists who " recognize the essential 
unity of all creeds and religions -the liars ! 
Chesterton tells us that Messrs. Shaw, Kipling, 
Wells, Ibsen and others are heretics, because 
of their doctrines. But he gives us no idea 
whether the Pope of Rome, who sells indul 
gences, is a heretic. And as the Pope is likely 
to outlive Messrs. Shaw, etc., by perhaps a 
thousand years, it is possible that Chesterton 
has been attacking the ephemeral heresies, 
while leaving the major ones untouched. In 
effect, Chesterton tells us no more than that 
we should shout with the largest crowd. But 
the largest crowd prefers, just now, not to do 
anything so clamorous. 

The most curious feature about the present 
position of Christianity is the energy with 

133 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

which its opponents combine to keep it going. 
While Mr. Robert Blatchford continues to 
argue that man s will is not free, and Sir Oliver 
Lodge continues to maintain that it is, the 
Doctrine of the Resurrection is safe ; it is not 
even attacked. But the net result of all those 
peculiar modern things called " movements 
is a state of immobility like a nicely balanced 
tug-of-war. Perhaps a Rugby scrum would 
make a better comparison. 

The great and grave changes in our political 
civilization all belong to the early nineteenth century, 
not to the later. They belong to the black-and- 
white epoch, when men believed fixedly in Toryism, 
in Protestantism, in Calvinism, in Reform, and not 
infrequently in Revolution. And whatever each man 
believed in, he hammered at steadily, without 
scepticism : and there was a time when the Estab 
lished Church might have fallen, and the House of 
Lords nearly fell. It was because Radicals were 
wise enough to be constant and consistent ; it was 
because Radicals were wise enough to be conservative. 
. . . Let beliefs fade fast and frequently if you wish 
institutions to remain the same. The more the life of 
the mind is unhinged, the more the machinery of 
matter will be left to itself. The net result of all our 
political suggestions, Collectivism, Tolstoyanism, Neo- 
Feudalism, Communism, Anarchy, Scientific Bureau 
cracy the plain fruit of them all is that Monarchy and 
the House of Lords will remain. The net result of all 
the new religions will be that the Church of England 

134 



RELIGION OF A DEBATER 

will not (for heaven knows how long) be disestablished. 
It was Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Cunninghame 
Graham, Bernard Shaw, and Auberon Herbert, who 
between them, with bowed, gigantic backs, bore up 
the throne of the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

It is on these grounds that we must believe 
that, even as the Church survives, and pre 
vails, in order to get a hearing when the atheist 
and the New Theologian have finished shout 
ing themselves hoarse at each other, so must 
political creeds be in conformity with the 
doctrines of the Church. Such is the founda 
tion of democracy, according to Chesterton. 
Will anybody revise his political views on this 
basis ? Probably not. Every Christian be 
lieves that his political opinions are thoroughly 
Christian, and so entire is the disrepute into 
which atheism has fallen as a philosophy of 
life, that a great many atheists likewise protest 
the entire Christianity of their politics. We 
are all democrats to-day, in one sense or 
another ; each of us more loosely than his 
neighbour. It is strange that by the criterion 
of almost every living man who springs to the 
mind as a representative democrat, Chesterton 
is the most undemocratic of us all. This, 
however, needs a separate chapter of explana 
tion. 



135 



VII 

THE POLITICIAN WHO 
COULD NOT TELL THE TIME 

SOMEWHERE at the back of all Chesterton s 
political and religious ideas lies an ideal 
country, a Utopia which actually existed. 
Its name is the Middle Ages. If some unem 
ployed Higher Critic chose to undertake the 
appalling task of reading steadily through all 
the works of G.K.C., copying out those pas 
sages in which there was any reference to the 
Middle Ages, the result would be a description 
of a land flowing with milk and honey. The 
inhabitants would be large, strong Christian 
men, and red-haired, womanly women. Their 
children would be unschooled, save by the 
Church. They would all live in houses of their 
own, on lands belonging to them. Their faith 
would be one. They would speak Latin as a 
sort of Esperanto, and drink enormous quan 
tities of good beer. The Church but I have 
found the passage relating to the Church : 

Religion, the immortal maiden, has been a maid-of- 
all-work as well as a servant of mankind. She 

136 



THE POLITICIAN 

provided men at once with the theoretic laws of an 
unalterable cosmos ; and also with the practical rules 
of the rapid and thrilling game of morality. She 
taught logic to the student and taught fairy tales to 
the children ; it was her business to confront the 
nameless gods whose fear is on all flesh, and also to 
see that the streets were spotted with silver and 
scarlet, that there was a day for wearing ribbons or an 
hour for ringing bells. 
MI 

The inhabitants of this happy realm would 
be instinctively democratic, and no woman 
would demand a vote there. They would have 
that exalted notion of patriotism that works 
outwards from the village pump to the universe 
at large. They would understand all humanity 
because they understood themselves. They 
would understand themselves because they 
would have no newspapers to widen their 
interests and so make them shallower. 

In Magic, as we have seen, Chesterton s 
mouthpiece, the Conjuror, gave us to under 
stand that it was better to believe in Apollo 
than merely to disbelieve in God. The Ches- 
tertonian Middle Ages are like Apollo ; they 
did not exist, but they make an admirable 
myth. For Chesterton, in common with the 
rest of us, nourishes on myths like the green 
bay ; we, however, happen not to know, in 
most cases, when our myths have a foundation. 

137 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Mankind demands myths and it has them. 
Some day a History of the World s Myths will 
be compiled. It will show humanity climbing 
perilous peaks in pursuit of somebody s mis 
interpretations of somebody else s books, or 
fighting bloodily because somebody asserted 
or denied that a nation was the chosen one, 
or invading new continents, physical or meta 
physical, because of legendary gold to be 
found therein, or in fact committing all its 
follies under the inspiration of myths as in 
fact it has done. The Middle Ages are to 
Chesterton what King Alfred was to the 
Chartists and early Radicals. They believed 
that in his days England was actually governed 
on Chartist principles. So it happens that two 
Radical papers of the early part of last century 
actually called themselves The Alfred, and that 
Major Cart wright spent a considerable amount 
of energy in inducing the Greeks to substitute 
pikes for bayonets in their struggles against 
the Turks, on the grounds that the pike was 
used in Alfred s England. 

So there we have Chesterton believing de 
voutly that that servile state, stricken with 
plague, and afflicted with death in all its forms, 
is the dreamland of the saints. His political 
principles, roughly speaking, are England was 
decent once let us apply the same recipe to 

138 



THE POLITICIAN 

the England of to-day. His suggestions, there 
fore, are rather negative than positive. He 
would dam the flood of modern legislative ten 
dencies because it is taking England farther 
away from his Middle Ages. But he will not 
say " do this " about anything, because in the 
Middle Ages they made few laws, not having, 
in point of fact, the power to enforce those 
offences against moral and economic law which 
then took the place of legislation. 

It is impossible to say to what extent 
Chesterton has surrendered himself to this 
myth ; whether he has come to accept it 
because he liked it, or in order to please his 
friend, Mr. Hilaire Belloc, from whom G.K.C. 
never differs politically. Once they stood side 
by side and debated against Mr. Shaw and 
Mr. Wells, arguing from Socialism to beer, and 
thence to religion. 

In January, 1908, Chesterton accepted the 
invitation of the Editor of The New Age to 
explain why he did not call himself a Socialist, 
in spite of his claim to possess " not only a 
faith in democracy, but a great tenderness for 
revolution." The explanation is complicated, 
to say the least. In the first place Chesterton 
does not want people to share, they should 
give and take. In the second place, as a 
democrat (which nobody else is) he has a vast 

139 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

respect (which nobody else has) for the work 
ing classes. And 

one thing I should affirm as certain, the whole smell 
and sentiment and general ideal of Socialism they 
detest and disdain. No part of the community is so 
specially fixed in those forms and feelings which are 
opposite to the tone of most Socialists ; the privacy 
of homes, the control of one s own children, the 
minding of one s own business. I look out of my 
back windows over the black stretch of Battersea, 
and I believe I could make up a sort of creed, a cata 
logue of maxims, which I am certain are believed, 
and believed strongly, by the overwhelming mass of 
men and women as far as the eye can reach. For 
instance, that an Englishman s house is his castle, 
and that awful proprieties ought to regulate admis 
sion to it ; that marriage is a real bond, making 
jealousy and marital revenge at the least highly 
pardonable ; that vegetarianism and all pitting of 
animal against human rights is a silly fad ; that on 
the other hand to save money to give yourself a fine 
funeral is not a silly fad, but a symbol of ancestral 
self-respect ; that when giving treats to friends or 
children, one should give them what they like, 
emphatically not what is good for them ; that there 
is nothing illogical in being furious because Tommy 
has been coldly caned by a schoolmistress and then 
throwing saucepans at him yourself. All these things 
they believe ; they are the only people who do believe 
them ; and they are absolutely and eternally right. 
They are the ancient sanities of humanity ; the ten 
commandments of man. 

140 



THE POLITICIAN 

A week later, Mr. H. G. Wells, who at that 
time had not yet broken away from organized 
Socialism, but was actually a member of the 
Executive Committee of the Fabian Society, 
wrote a reply to the case against Socialism 
which had been stated by Chesterton, and, a 
week earlier, by Mr. Hilaire Belloc. He 
attempted to get Chesterton to look facts in 
the face. He pointed out that as things are 
" I do not see how Belloc and Chesterton can 
stand for anything but a strong State as 
against those wild monsters of property, the 
strong, big, private owners." Suppose that 
Chesterton isn t a Socialist, is he more on the 
side of the Socialists or on that of the Free 
Trade Liberal capitalists and landlords ? "It 
isn t an adequate reply to say [of Socialism] 
that nobody stood treat there, and that the 
simple, generous people like to beat their own 
wives and children on occasion in a loving and 
intimate manner, and that they won t endure 
the spirit of Sidney Webb." 

A fortnight later, Chesterton replied. But, 
though many have engaged with him in con 
troversy, I doubt if anybody has ever pinned 
him down to a fact or an argument. On this 
occasion, G.K.C. politely refused even to refer 
to the vital point of the case of Mr. H. G. 
Wells. On the other hand he wrote a very 

141 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

jolly article about beer and " tavern hospi 
tality." The argument marked time for two 
weeks more, when Mr. Belloc once again 
entered the lists. The essence of his contri 
bution is " I premise that man, in order to be 
normally happy, tolerably happy, must own." 
Collectivism will not let him own. The trouble 
about the present state of society is that people 
do not own enough. The remedy proposed 
will be worse than the disease. Then Mr. 
Bernard Shaw had a look in. 

In the course of his lengthy article he gave 
" the Chesterbelloc -"a very amusing pan 
tomime elephant -several shrewd digs in the 
ribs. It claimed, according to G.B.S., to be 
the Zeitgeist. " To which we reply, bluntly, 
but conclusively, Gammon ! The rest was 
mostly amiable personalities. Mr. Shaw owned 
up to musical cravings, compared with which 
the Chesterbelloc tendency to consume alcohol 
was as nothing. He also jeered very pleasantly 
at Mr. Belloc s power to cause a stampede of 
Chesterton s political and religious ideas. " For 
Belloc s sake Chesterton says he believes liter 
ally in the Bible story of the Resurrection. 
For Belloc s sake he says he is not a Socialist. 
On a recent occasion I tried to drive him to 
swallow the Miracle of St. Januarius for Belloc s 
sake ; but at that he stuck. He pleaded his 

142 



THE POLITICIAN 

belief in the Resurrection story. He pointed 
out very justly that I believe in lots of things 
just as miraculous as the Miracle of St. Janu- 
arius ; but when I remorselessly pressed the 
fact that he did not believe that the blood of 
St. Januarius reliquefies miraculously every 
year, the Credo stuck in his throat like Amen 
in Macbeth s. He had got down at last to his 
irreducible minimum of dogmatic incredulity, 
and could not, even with the mouth of the 
bottomless pit yawning before Belloc, utter 
the saving lie." 

By this time the discussion was definitely 
off Socialism. Chesterton produced another 
article, The Last of the Rationalists, in reply 
to Mr. Shaw, from which one gathered what 
one had been previously suspected that " you 
[namely Mr. Shaw, but in practice both the 
opposition controversialists] have confined 
yourselves to charming essays on our two 
charming personalities." And there they 
stopped. 

The year following this bout of personalities 
saw the publication of a remarkably brilliant 
book by Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw, in 
which, one might have expected, the case 
against the political creed represented by 
G.B.S. might have been carried a trifle farther. 
Instead of which it was not carried anything 

143 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

like so far. Chesterton jeered at Mr. Shaw s 
vegetarianism, denied his democracy, but de 
cided that on the whole he was a good repub 
lican, " in the literal and Latin sense ; he cares 
more for the Public Thing than for any private 
thing." He ends the chapter entitled " The 
Progressive by saying the kindest things he 
ever said about any body of Socialists. 

I have in my time had my fling at the Fabian 
Society, at the pedantry of schemes, the arrogance 
of experts ; nor do I regret it now. But when I 
remember that other world against which it reared 
its bourgeois banner of cleanliness and common sense, 
I will not end this chapter without doing it decent 
honour. Give me the drain pipes of the Fabians 
rather than the panpipes of the later poets ; the 
drain pipes have a nicer smell. 

The reader may have grasped by this time 
the fact that Chesterton s objections to Socialism 
were based rather on his dislike of what the 
working man calls " mucking people about 
than on any economic grounds. He made 
himself the sworn enemy of any Bill before 
Parliament which contained any proposals to 
appoint inspectors. He took the line that the 
sacredness of the home diminishes visibly with 
the entrance of the gas collector, and disappears 
down the kitchen sink with the arrival of the 
school attendance officer. In those of his 

144 



THE POLITICIAN 

writings which I have not seen I have no doubt 
there are pleadings for the retention of the 
cesspool, because it is the last moat left to the 
Englishman s house, which is his castle. It is 
difficult to believe in the complete sincerity 
of such an attitude. The inspector is the chief 
enemy of the bad landlord and employer, he 
is a fruit of democracy. In the early days of 
the factory system, when mercilessly long 
hours were worked by children and women, 
when legislation had failed to ameliorate the 
conditions of employment, because the em 
ployers were also the magistrates, and would 
not enforce laws against themselves, the great 
Reform Bill agitation, which so nearly caused 
a revolution in this country, came to an end, 
having in 1832 achieved a partial success. But 
the new House of Commons did not at once 
realize how partial it was, and at first it 
regarded the interests of working men with 
something of the intensity of the Liberal 
Government of 1906, which had not yet come 
to appreciate the new and portentous Labour 
Party at its true worth. So in 1833 inspectors 
were appointed for the first time. This very 
brief excursion into history is sufficient justi 
fication for refusing to take seriously those 
who would have us believe that inspectors are 
necessarily the enemies of the human race. 
K 145 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Chesterton s theory that middle-class Socialists 
are people who want to do things to the poor 
in the direction of regimenting them finds an 
easy refutation. When, in 1910, the whole of 
England fell down before the eloquence of 
Mr. Lloyd George, and consented to the Insur 
ance Bill, the one body of people who stood out 
and fought that Bill was that middle-class 
Socialist body, the Fabian Society. It is 
sometimes desirable, for purposes of contro 
versy, to incarnate a theory or objection. 
Chesterton lumped together all his views on 
the alleged intentions of the Socialists to inter 
fere in the natural and legitimate happinesses of 
the working class, and called this curious com 
posite Mr. Sidney Webb. So through many 
volumes Mr. Webb s name is continually 
bobbing up, like an irrepressible Aunt Sally, 
and having to be thwacked into a temporary 
disappearance. But this is only done for 
literary effect. To heave a brick at a man is 
both simpler and more amusing than to arraign 
a system or a creed. A reader enjoys the 
feeling that his author is a clever dog who is 
making it devilishly uncomfortable for his 
opponents. His appreciation would be con 
siderably less if the opponent in question was 
a mere theory. In point of fact, Chesterton is 
probably a warm admirer of Mr. and Mrs. 

146 



THE POLITICIAN 



Sidney Webb. When they founded (in 1909) 
their National Committee for the Prevention 
of Destitution, designed to educate the British 
public in the ideas of what has been called 
Webbism, especially those contained in the 
Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission, 
one of the first to join was G. K. Chesterton. 

The word Socialism covers a multitude of 
Socialists, some of whom are not. The political 
faith of a man, therefore, must not be judged 
upon his attitude towards Socialism, if we 
have anything more definite to go upon. Ches 
terton overflows, so to speak, with predilec 
tions, such as beer (in a political sense, of 
course), opposition to the Jingo, on the one 
hand, and to middle-class faddery, such as 
vegetarianism, on the other, and so on. Any 
body might indulge in most of his views, in 
fact, without incurring severe moral reproba 
tion. But there is an exception which, un 
fortunately, links Chesterton pretty firmly 
with the sweater, and other undesirable lords 
of creation. He is an anti-suffragist. 

In a little essay Chesterton nee wrote on 
Tolstoy, he argued that the thing that has 
driven men mad was logic, from the beginning 
of time, whereas the thing that has kept them 
sane was mysticism. Tolstoy, lacking mysti 
cism, was at the mercy of his pitiless logic, 

147 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

which led him to condemn things which are 
entirely natural and human. This attitude, 
one feels (and it is only to be arrived at by 
feeling), is absolutely right. We all start off 
with certain scarce expressible feelings that 
certain things are fundamentally decent and 
permissible, and that others are the reverse, 
just as we do not take our idea of blackness 
and whiteness from a text-book. If anybody 
proposed that all Scotsmen should be com 
pelled to eat sago with every meal, the idea, 
although novel to most of us, would be in 
stantly dismissed, even, it is probable, by 
those with sago interests, because it would be 
contrary to our instinct of what is decent. 
In fact, we all believe in natural rights, or at 
any rate we claim the enjoyment of some. 
Now natural rights have no logical basis. The 
late Professor D. G. Ritchie very brilliantly 
examined the theory of natural rights, and by 
means of much subtle dissection and argument 
found that there were no natural rights ; law 
was the only basis of privilege. It is quite 
easy to be convinced by the author s delightful 
dialectic, but the conviction is apt to vanish 
suddenly in the presence of a dog being ill- 
treated. 

Now on a basis of common decency the 
basis of all democratic political thought the 

148 



THE POLITICIAN 

case for woman suffrage is irresistible. It is 
not decent that the sweated woman worker 
should be denied what, in the opinion of many 
competent judges, might be the instrument of 
her salvation. It is not decent that women 
should share a disqualification with lunatics, 
criminals, children, and no others of their own 
race. It is not decent that the sex which knows 
most about babies should have no opportunity 
to influence directly legislation dealing with 
babies. It is not decent that a large, important 
and necessary section of humanity, with highly 
gregarious instincts, should not be allowed to 
exercise the only gregarious function which 
concerns the whole nation at once. 

These propositions are fundamental ; if a 
man or woman cannot accept them, then he is 
at heart an " anti," even if he has constructed 
for himself a quantity of reasons, religious, 
ethical, economic, political or what not, why 
women should be allowed to vote. Every 
suffrage argument is, or can be, based on 
decencies, not on emotion or statistics. 

Chesterton, bases his case on decencies, but 
they are not the decencies that matter. In 
What s Wrong with the World he insists on the 
indecency of allowing women to cease to be 
amateurs within the home, or of allowing them 
to earn a living in a factory or office, or of 

149 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

allowing them to share in the responsibility 
for taking the lives of condemned murderers, 
or of allowing them to exercise the coercion 
which is government, which is a sort of pyra 
mid, with a gallows on top, the ultimate resort 
of coercive power. And in these alleged in 
decencies (the word is not altogether my own) 
lies Chesterton s whole case against allowing 
any woman to vote. Into these propositions 
his whole case, as expressed in What s Wrong 
with the World, is faithfully condensed. 

Well now, are these indecencies sincere or 
simulated ? First, as regards the amateur. 
Chesterton s case is that the amateur is neces 
sary, in order to counteract the influences of 
the specialist. Man is nowadays the specialist. 
He is confined to making such things as the 
thousandth part of a motor-car or producing 
the ten-thousandth part of a daily newspaper. 
By being a specialist he is made narrow. 
Woman, with the whole home on her hands, 
has a multiplicity of tasks. She is the amateur, 
and as such she is free. If she is put into 
politics or industry she becomes a specialist, 
and as such becomes a slave. This is a pretty 
piece of reasoning, but it is absolutely hollow. 
There are few women who do not gladly resign 
part at least of their sovereignty, if they have 
the chance, to a maid-servant (who may be, 

150 



THE POLITICIAN 

and, in fact, usually is an amateur, but is not 
free to try daring experiments) or to such 
blatant specialists as cooks and nursemaids. 
Nobody is the least bit shocked by the exist 
ence of specialist women. Indeed, it is a 
solemn fact, that were it not for them Chester 
ton would be unable to procure a single article 
of clothing. He would be driven to the fig- 
leaf, and would stand a good chance of not 
getting even so much, now that so many gar 
deners are women. We are terribly dependent 
upon the specialist woman. That is why the 
amateur within the home is beginning to 
wonder whether, on the whole, man is so very 
much dependent upon her. She comes to rely 
more and more upon the specialist women to 
help her feed, clothe, and nurse her husband. 
She has so much done for her that she comes 
to understand the remainder left to her far 
better. She becomes a specialist herself, and 
feels kindly towards other specialists. Then 
she demands a vote and meets Chesterton, 
who tells her to go and mind the baby and be 
as free as she likes with the domestic apparatus 
for making pastry, when her baby is in point 
of fact being brought up by other women at a 
Montessori school to be much more intelligent 
and much more of a specialist than she herself 
is ever likely to be, and when she knows that 

151 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

her dyspeptic husband has an absolute loath 
ing for the amateurishness that expresses itself 
in dough. 

Then there is the alleged wrongness of per 
mitting women to work in factories and offices. 
We are all probably prepared to admit that 
we have been shocked at the commercial em 
ployment of women. But it has probably 
occurred to few of us that the shock was due 
simply to their commercial employment. It 
was due to their low wages and to the beastli 
ness of their employers. When they drew 
decent wages and their employers were decent 
men we were not the least bit hurt. But when 
an employer made use of the amateurishness 
of young girls to underpay them, and then 
make deductions from their wages on various 
trivial pretexts, and put them to work in over 
crowded factories and offices, then we all felt 
acutely that an indecency was being com 
mitted. The obvious democratic remedy is 
the duckpond, but in our great cities none 
remain. So one is sorrowfully brought round 
to the slower but surer expedient of attacking 
and destroying the amateurishness of women 
at the point where it is dangerous to them. 
Amateurishness has encircled women in the 
past like the seven rivers of Hades. Every 
now and again a daring excursion was made in 

152 



THE POLITICIAN 

order that the wisdom of those imprisoned 
within should be added to our store. A good 
deal of aboriginal amateurishness has been 
evaporating as the woman doctor has been 
taking the place of the time-honoured amateur 
dispenser of brimstone and treacle, and even 
horrider things. And will Chesterton maintain 
that it were better for us all if certain women 
had remained amateurs and had not studied 
and specialized so that, in time of need, they 
were enabled to tend the sick and wounded at 
home, in Flanders and in France, and wherever 
the powers of evil had been at work ? 

Lastly, is it decent that women should share 
the awful responsibility which is attached to 
the ultimate control of the State, when the 
State is compelled to use the gallows ? If 
women vote, they are responsible for whatever 
blood is shed by the State. Yes, but, Mr. 
Chesterton, aren t they just as responsible for 
it in any case ? Don t women help to pay the 
hangman s w^ages with every ounce of tea or 
of sweets they buy ? If capital punishment 
is obscene, then we can do without it, and a 
woman s vote will not make her a sharer in 
the evil. If capital punishment is morally 
stimulating to the nation at large, there is no 
reason why women should not be allowed to 
share in the stimulation. Now what has 

153 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

become of Chesterton s decencies ? It is 
indeed saddening that a man who never misses 
an opportunity to proclaim himself a demo 
crat should take his stand on this matter 
beside Lord Curzon, and in opposition to the 
instinctively and essentially democratic views 
proclaimed by such men as Messrs. H. W. 
Nevinson and Philip Snowden. 

In an article in The Illustrated London News 
on June 1st, 1912, Chesterton showed whose 
side he was on with unusual distinctness. The 
subject of the article was Earnestness ; the 
moral, that it was a bad quality, the property 
of Socialists and Anti-Socialists, and Suffragists, 
and that apathy was best of all. It concluded : 

Neither Socialists nor Suffragists will smash our 
politics, I fear. The worst they can do is to put a 
little more of the poison of earnestness into the 
strong, unconscious sanity of our race, and disturb 
that deep and just indifference on which all things 
rest ; the quiet of the mother or the carelessness of 
the child. 

In remarkably similar words, the late Pro 
curator of the Holy Synod of the Russian 
Church, C. P. Pobedonostsev, condemned de 
mocracy in his book, The Reflexions of a 
Russian Statesman, and praised vis inertice for 
its preservative effects. But the Russian had 
more consistency ; he did not merely condemn 

154 



THE POLITICIAN 

votes for women, but also votes for men ; and 
not only votes, but education, the jury system, 
the freedom of the Press, religious freedom, 
and many other things. 

Putting aside the question of woman suf 
frage, Chesterton s views on democracy may 
be further illustrated by reference to the pro 
ceedings of the Joint Select Committee of the 
House of Lords and the House of Commons, 
1909, on Stage Plays (Censorship). He may 
speak for himself here. 

Mr. G. K. Chesterton is called in, and 
examined. 

Question 614<I(Chairman). I understand that you 
appear here to give evidence on behalf of the average 
man ? 

G.K.C. Yes, that is so. I represent the audience, 
in fact. I am neither a dramatist nor a dramatic 
critic. I do not quite know why I am here, but if 
anybody wants to know my views on the subject they 
are these : I am for the censorship, but I am against 
the present Censor. I am very strongly for the 
censorship, and I am very strongly against the present 
Censor. The whole question I think turns on the 
old democratic objection to despotism. I am an old- 
fashioned person and I retain the old democratic 
objection to despotism. I would trust 12 ordinary 
men, but I cannot trust one ordinary man. 

6142. You prefer the jury to the judge ? Yes, 
exactly ; that is the very point. It seems to me 
that if you have one ordinary man judging, it is not 

155 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

his ordinariness that appears, but it is his extra- 
ordinariness that appears. Take anybody you like 
George III for instance. I suppose that George III 
was a pretty ordinary man in one sense. People 
called him Farmer George. He was very like a large 
number of other people, but when he was alone in 
his position things appeared in him that were not 
ordinary that he was a German, and that he was 
mad, and various other facts. Therefore, my primary 
principle 

6143. He gloried in the name of Briton ? I know 
he did. That is what showed him to be so thoroughly 
German. 

LORD NEWTON. He spelt it wrongly. 

WITNESS. Therefore, speaking broadly, I would 
not take George Ill s opinion, but I would take the 
opinion of 12 George Ill s on any question. 

The taking of the " evidence took several 
hours, but it never yielded anything more 
than this : The local jury is a better judge of 
what is right and proper than a single Censor. 
Juries may differ in their judgments ; but 
why not ? Is it not desirable that Hampstead 
and Highgate should each have an opportunity 
of finding out independently what they like ? 
May they not compete in taste one against 
the other ? 

This introduction of the question of dramatic 
censorship invites a slight digression. Chester 
ton has a decided regard for a dramatic censor- 

156 



THE POLITICIAN 

ship. A book need not be censored, because it 
need not be finished by its reader, but it may 
be difficult to get out of a theatre in the course 
of a performance. And there are performances 
of plays, written by " irresponsible modern 
philosophers," which, to Chesterton, seem to 
deserve suppression. A suggestive French 
farce may be a dirty joke, but it is at least a 
joke ; but a play which raises the question Is 
marriage a failure ? and answers it in the 
affirmative, is a pernicious philosophy. The 
answer to this last contention is that, in point 
of strict fact, modern philosophers do not 
regard happy marriages as failures, and opinion 
is divided on the others, which are generally 
the subjects of their plays. But there is no 
doubt that a jury is better qualified than a 
single Censor. A French jury decided that 
Madame Bovary was not immoral. An English 
jury decided that a certain book by Zola was 
immoral and sent the publisher to prison. 
Another English jury, for all practical pur 
poses, decided that Dorian Gray was not 
immoral, and so on. The verdicts may be 
accepted. Twelve men, picked from an 
alphabetical list, may not be judges of art, 
but they will not debase morality. 

Chesterton s personal contribution to the 
political thought of his day lies in his criticism 

157 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

of the humaneness of legislative proposals. A 
thing that is human is commonly a very 
different matter from a thing that is merely 
humanitarian. G.K.C. is hotly human and 
almost bitterly anti-humanitarian. 

The difference between the two is illustrated 
by the institution of the gallows, which is 
human, but not humanitarian. In its essen 
tials it consists of a rope and a branch, which 
is precisely the apparatus that an angry man 
might employ in order to rid himself of his 
captured enemy. Herbert Spencer, seeking 
in his old age for means whereby to increase 
the happiness of mankind, invented a humani 
tarian apparatus for the infliction of capital 
punishment. It consisted of a glorified round 
about, on which the victim was laid for his 
last journey. As it revolved, the blood-pres 
sure on his head gradually increased (or 
decreased, I forget which) until he fell asleep 
and died painlessly. This is humanitarianism. 
The process is safe and sure (so long as the 
machine did not stop suddenly), highly efficient, 
bloodless and painless. But just because it is 
so humanitarian it offends one a great deal 
more than the old-fashioned gallows. The 
only circumstance which can justify violence 
is anger. The only circumstance which can 
justify the taking of human life is anger. And 

158 



THE POLITICIAN 

anger may be expressed by a rope or a knife- 
edge, but not by a roundabout or any other 
morbid invention of a cold-blooded philosopher 
such as the electric chair, or the lethal chamber. 
In the same way, if flogging is to continue as 
a punishment, it must be inflicted by a man 
and not by a machine. 

Now this distinction (made without preju 
dice as to Chesterton s views on capital or 
corporal punishment) holds good through his 
whole criticism of modern legislation. He 
believes that it is better that a man and his 
family should starve in their own slum, than 
that they should be moulded, by a cumbersome 
apparatus of laws and officials and inspectors, 
into a tame, mildly prosperous and mildly 
healthy group of individuals, whose opinions, 
occupations and homes should be provided for 
them. On these lines he attacks whatever in 
his opinion will tend to put men into a position 
where their souls will be less their own. He 
believes that the man who has been costered 
by the Government into a mediocre state of 
life will be less of a man than one who has been 
left unbothered by officials, and has had to 
shift for himself. 

Very largely, therefore, Chesterton s political 
faith is an up-to-date variety of the tenets of 
the Self-Help School, which was own brother 

159 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

to the Manchester School. And here we come 
to a curious contradiction, the first of a series. 
For Chesterton loathes the Manchester School. 
The contradiction comes of an inveterate 
nominalism. To G.K.C. all good politics are 
summed up in the words Liberty, Equality, 
Fraternity. But nobody, not even a French 
man, can explain what they mean. Chesterton 
used to believe that they mean Liberalism, 
being led astray by the sound of the first word, 
but he soon realized his error. Let a man say 
" I believe in Liberty and only the vague 
ness of the statement preserves it from the 
funniness of a Higher Thinker s affirmation, 
" I believe in Beauty." A man has to feel 
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, for they are not 
in the nature of facts. And one suspects 
horribly that what Chesterton really feels is 
merely the masculine liberty, equality and 
fraternity of the public-house, where men meet 
together but never do anything. For Chester 
ton has not yet asked us to do anything, he 
only requests Parliament to refrain. He sup 
ports no political programme. He is opposed 
to Party Government, which is government 
by the Government. He is in favour of Home 
Rule, it may be inferred ; and of making things 
nasty for the Jews, it may be supposed. But 
he does not poach on the leader-writers pre- 
160 



THE POLITICIAN 

serves, and his political programme is left 
hazy. His opposition to Liberal proposals 
brings him near the Tories. If the Liberals 
continue in power for a few years longer, and 
Home Rule drops out of the things opposed 
by Tories, the latter may well find Chesterton 
among their doubtful assets. He will probably 
continue to call himself a Liberal and a " child 
of the French Revolution," but that will be 
only his fun. For the interesting abortions to 
which the French Revolution gave birth 
well, they are quite another story. 

Chesterton is a warm supporter of the 
queerly mixed proposals that are known as 
the " rights of small nationalities," and the 
smaller the nationality, the more warmly he 
supports (so he would have us believe) its 
demand for self-government. Big fleas have 
little fleas, alas, and that is the difficulty he 
does not confront. For Home Rule carried to 
its final sub-division is simply home rule ; the 
independence of homes. Political Home Rule 
is only assented to on general principles ; 
apparently on the ground that on the day 
when an Englishman s home really does be 
come his castle he will not, so to speak, mind 
much whether he is an Englishman or an 
Irishman. 

And here we may bid farewell to the poli- 
L 161 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

tician who is Chesterton. His politics are like 
his perverse definitions of the meaning of such 
words as progress and reform. He is like a 
child who plays about with the hands of a 
clock, and makes the surprising discovery that 
some clocks may be made to tell a time that 
does not exist with the small hand at twelve 
and the large at six, for example. Also that if 
a clock goes fast, it comes to register an hour 
behind the true time, and the other way round. 
And so Chesterton goes on playing with the 
times, until at last a horrid suspicion grips us. 
What if he cannot tell the time himself ? 



162 



VIII 
A DECADENT OF SORTS 

AN idea, if treated gently, may be brought up 
to perform many useful tasks. It is, however, 
apt to pine in solitude, and should be allowed 
to enjoy the company of others of its own 
kind. It is much easier to overwork an idea 
than a man, and of the two, the wearied idea 
presents an infinitely more pathetic appearance. 
Those of us who, for our sins, have to review 
the novels of other people, are accustomed to 
the saddening spectacle of a poor little idea, 
beautiful and fresh in its youth, come wearily 
to its tombstone on page 300 (where or where 
abouts novels end), trailing after it an immense 
load of stiff and heavy puppets, taken down 
from the common property-cupboards of the 
nation s fiction, and not even dusted for the 
occasion. Manalive, as we have seen, suffered 
from its devotion to one single idea, but the 
poor little thing was kept going to the bitter 
end by the flow of humorous encouragement 
given it by the author. The later works of 

163 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Chesterton, however, are symbolized by a 
performing flea, dragging behind it a little 
cartload of passengers. But it sometimes 
happens that the humour of Manalive is not 
there, that one weary idea has to support an 
intolerable deal of prose. 

In An Essay on Two Cities^ there is a long 
passage illustrating the adventures of a man 
who tried to find people in London by the 
names of the places. He might go into Buck 
ingham Palace in search of the Duke of Buck 
ingham, into Marlborough House in quest of 
the Duke of Marlborough. He might even 
look for the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo. 

I wonder that no one has written a wild romance 
about the adventures of such an alien, seeking the 
great English aristocrats, and only guided by the 
names ; looking for the Duke of Bedford in the town 
of that name, seeking for some trace of the Duke 
of Norfolk in Norfolk. He might sail for Wellington 
in New Zealand to find the ancient seat of the Welling 
tons. The last scene might show him trying to learn 
Welsh in order to converse with the Prince of Wales. 

Here is an idea that is distinctly amusing when 
made to fill one short paragraph, and might 
be deadly tedious if extended into a wild 
romance. Perhaps the best way of summariz 
ing the peculiar decadence into which Ches- 

1 All Things Considered. 

164 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

terton seemed at one time to be falling is by 
the statement that up to the present he has 
not found time to write the book, but has done 
others like it. And yet the decadence has 
never showed signs of that fin de siecle rustiness 
that marked the decadent movement (if it was 
really a movement and not just an obsession) 
of the generation that preceded Chesterton. 
He cursed it in the dedication to Mr. E. C. 
Bentley of The Man who was Thursday, and 
he remained true to the point of view expressed 
in that curse for ever afterwards. 

A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the 

weather, 
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul, when we were boys 

together. 

Science announced nonentity, and art admired decay ; 
The world was old and ended : but you and I were gay. 
Round us in antic order their crippled vices came 
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its 

shame. 

Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom, 
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a 

plume. 

Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung ; 
The world was very old indeed when you and I were 

young. 

They twisted even decent sin to shapes not to be named : 
Men were ashamed of honour ; but we were not ashamed. 

The Chestertonian decadence was not even 
an all-round falling-off. If anybody were to 

165 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

make the statement that in the year nineteen- 
hundred-and-something Chesterton produced 
his worst work it would be open to anybody 
else to declare, with equal truth, that in the 
same year Chesterton produced his best work. 
And the year in which these extremes met 
would be either 1913 or 1914, the years of 
Father Brown and The Flying Inn on one hand, 
and of Father Brown and some of the songs of 
The Flying Inn on the other. It was not a 
technical decline, but the period of certain 
intellectual wearinesses, when Chesterton s 
mental resilience failed him for a time, and 
he welcomed with too much enthusiasm the 
nasty ideas from which no man is wholly free. 

The main feature indeed of this period of 
decadence is the brandishing about of a whole 
mass of antipathies. A man is perfectly en 
titled to hate what he will, but it is generally 
assumed that the hater has some ideas on the 
subject of the reform of the hatee. But Ches 
terton is as devoid of suggestions as a goat is 
of modesty. A man may have a violent ob 
jection against women earning their own 
livings, and yet be regarded as a reasonable 
being if he has any alternative proposals for the 
well-being of the unendowed and temporarily 
or permanently unmarriageable woman, with 
no relatives able to support her and there 

166 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

are two or three millions of such women in the 
United Kingdom. But a mere " You shouldn t " 
is neither here nor there. 

Take this verse. It was written two or 
three years ago and is from a poem entitled 
To a Turk. 

With us too rage against the rood 

Your devils and your swine ; 
A colder scorn of womanhood, 

A baser fear of wine, 
And lust without the harem, 

And Doom without the God, 
Go. It is not this rabble 

Sayeth to you " Ichabod." 

A previous stanza talks about the creedless 
chapel." Here is a whole mass of prejudices 
collected into a large splutter at the expense 
of England. If the verse means anything at 
all, it means that the English are nearer the 
beasts than the Turks. 

Another of Chesterton s intellectual aber 
rations is his anti-Semitism. He continually 
denied in the columns of The Daily Herald that 
he was an anti-Semite, but his references to the 
Jews are innumerable and always on the same 
side. If one admits what appears to be Ches 
terton s contention that Judaism is largely 
just an exclusive form of contemporary atheism, 
then one is entitled to ask, Why is a wicked 
Gentile atheist merely an atheist, while a 

167 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

Jewish atheist remains a Jew ? Surely the 
morals of both are on the same level, and the 
atheism, and not the race, is the offensive 
feature. The Jews have their sinners and their 
saints, including the greatest Saint of all. 

They and they only, amongst all mankind, 
Received the transcript of the eternal mind ; 
Were trusted with His own engraven laws, 
And constituted guardians of His cause : 
Their s were the prophets, their s the priestly call, 
And their s, by birth, the Saviour of us all. 

Even if Chesterton cannot work himself up 
to Cowper s enthusiasm (and few of us can), 
he cannot deny that the race he is continually 
blackguarding was preparing his religion, and 
discovering the way to health at a time when 
his own Gentile ancestors were probably per 
forming human sacrifices and eating worms. 
Unquestionably what is the matter with the 
modern Jew, especially of the educated classes, 
is that he refuses to be impressed by the Chris 
tian Church. But the Christian Church cannot 
fairly be said to have made herself attractive 
in the past ; her methods of Inquisition, for 
example. . . . 

It is difficult to write apathetically on this 
extreme instance of a great writer s intolerance. 
One single example will suffice. A year or 
two ago, a Jew called Beilis was put on his trial 

168 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

(after an imprisonment of nearly three years) 
for the murder of a small Christian boy named 
Yushinsky, in order that his blood might 
be used for ritual purposes. Yushinsky, 
who was found dead under peculiar circum 
stances, was probably a Jew himself, but 
that does not affect the point at issue. Mr. 
Arthur Henderson, M.P., tried to arouse an 
agitation in order to secure the freedom of 
Beilis, because it was perfectly evident from 
the behaviour of certain parties that the 
prisoner s conviction would be the signal for 
the outbreak of a series of massacres of the 
Jews, and because a case which had taken 
nearly three years to prepare was obviously 
a very thin case. Chesterton wrote a ribald 
article in The Daily Herald on Mr. Henderson s 
attempt at intervention, saying in effect, How 
do you know that Beilis isn t guilty ? Now it 
is impossible to hold the belief that Beilis 
might be guilty and at the same time disbelieve 
that the Jews are capable of committing 
human sacrifice. When a leading Russian 
critic named Rosanov, also an anti-Semite, 
issued a pamphlet proclaiming that the Jews 
did, in fact, commit this loathsome crime, he 
was ignominiously ejected from a prominent 
Russian literary society. The comparison 
should appeal to Chesterton. 

169 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

The nadir of these antipathies is reached in 
The Flying Inn, a novel published a few months 
before the Great War broke out, and before 
we all made the discovery that, hold what 
prejudices we will, we are all immensely 
dependent on one another. In this book we 
are given a picture of England of the future, 
conquered by the Turk. As a concession to 
Islam, all intoxicating drink is prohibited in 
England. It is amusing to note that a few 
months after the publication of this silly 
prognostication, the greatest Empire in Chris 
tendom prohibited drink within its frontiers 
in order to conquer the Turk and his Allies. 
A Patrick Dalroy, an Irishman (with red hair), 
and of course a giant, has been performing 
Homeric feats against the conquering Turks. 
A Lord Ivywood, an abstraction bloodless to 
the point of albinism, is at the head of affairs 
in England. The Jews dominate everything. 
Dalroy and Humphrey Pump, an evicted inn 
keeper, discovering that drinks may still be 
sold where an inn -sign may be found, start 
journeying around England loaded only with 
the sign-board of " The Green Man," a large 
cheese, and a keg of rum. They are, in fact, a 
peripatetic public-house, and the only demo 
cratic institution of its kind left in England. 
Every other chapter the new innkeepers run 

170 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

into Ivywood and his hangers-on. As the 
story wriggles its inconsequent length, the 
author curses through the mouths of his 
heroes. He anathematizes teetotallers, brewers, 
vegetarians, temperance drinks, model villages, 
aesthetic poets, Oriental art, Parliament, poli 
ticians, Jews, Turks, and infidels in general, 
futurist painting, and other things. In the 
end, Dalroy and Pump lead a vast insurrection, 
and thousands of dumb, long-suffering English 
men attack Ivywood in his Hall, and so free 
their country from the Turk. 

Only the songs already described in Chapter 
V preserve this book from extreme dullness. 
Technically it is poor. The action is as scat 
tered as the parts of a futurist picture. A 
whole chapter is devoted to a picture of a 
newspaper editor at work, inventing the phrase 
ology of indefmiteness. Epigrams are few and 
are very much overworked. Once a catch 
word is sprung, it is run to death. The Turk 
who by means of silly puns attempts to prove 
that Islamic civilization is better than European, 
never ceases in his efforts. The heartlessness 
of Ivywood is continuous, and ends in insanity. 

Parts of The Flying Inn convey the impres 
sion that Chesterton was tired of his own style 
and his own manner of controversy, and had 
taken to parodying himself. The arguments 

171 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

of the already-mentioned Turk, for example, 
might well pass for a really good parody of the 
theological dispute in the first chapter of The 
Ball and the Cross. There, it may be remem 
bered, two men (more or less) discussed the 
symbolism of balls and crosses. In The Flying 
Inn people discuss the symbolism of crescents 
and crosses, and the Turk, Misysra Ammon, 
explains, " When the English see an English 
youth, they cry out He is crescent ! But 
when they see an English aged man, they cry 
out He is cross ! On these lines a great 
deal of The Flying Inn is written. 

We now come to Chesterton s political 
decadence, traceable, like many features in his 
history, to Mr. Hilaire Belloc. The friendship 
between G.K.C. and the ex-Liberal M.P. for 
Rochdale bore a number of interesting fruits. 
There were the amusing illustrations to The 
Great Enquiry, an amusing skit on the Tariff 
Reform League, to Emmanuel Burden and 
The Green Overcoat. But curious artificialities 
sprang into existence, like so many funguses, 
under the lengthening shadow of Mr. Belloc. 
To him is due the far-fetchedness of some of 
Chesterton s pleading in support of the miracu 
lous element in religion. To him also is due 
the growing antipathy against the Liberal 
Party and the party system in general. 

172 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

Up to the end of January, 1913, Chesterton 
had continued his connection with The Daily 
News. On January 28th there took place, at 
the Queen s Hall, London, a debate between 
Mr. Bernard Shaw and Mr. Hilaire Belloc. 
The latter moved " That if we do not re 
establish the institution of property, we shall 
re-establish the institution of slavery ; there 
is no third course." The debate was an ex 
tremely poor affair, as neither combatant dealt, 
except parenthetically, with his opponent s 
points. In the course of it Mr. Shaw, to illus 
trate an argument, referred to Chesterton as 
" a flourishing property of Mr. Cadbury," a 
remark which G.K.C. appears to have taken 
to heart. His quarrel with official Liberalism 
was at the moment more bitter than ever 
before. Mr. Belloc had taken a very decided 
stand on the Marconi affair, and Mr. Cecil 
Chesterton, G.K.C. s brother, was sturdily sup 
porting him. The Daily News, on the other 
hand, was of course vigorously defending the 
Government. Chesterton suddenly severed 
his long connection with The Daily News and 
came over to The Daily Herald. This paper, 
which is now defunct, except in a weekly 
edition, was the organ of Syndicalism and 
rebellion in general. In a letter to the editor 
of The Herald, Chesterton explained with 

173 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

pathetic irony that The Daily News " had come 
to stand for almost everything I disagree with ; 
and I thought I had better resign before the 
next great measure of social reform made it 
illegal to go on strike." 

A week or so later, Chesterton started his 
series of Saturday articles in The Daily Herald. 
His first few efforts show that he made a 
determined attempt to get down to the intel 
lectual level of the Syndicalist. But anybody 
who sits down to read through these articles 
will notice that before many weeks had passed 
Chesterton was beginning to feel a certain dis 
comfort in the company he was keeping. He 
writes to say that he likes writing for The 
Daily Herald because it is the most revolu 
tionary paper he knows, " even though I do 
not agree with all the revolutions it advocates," 
and goes on to state that, personally, he likes 
most of the people he meets. Having thus, 
as it were, cleared his conscience in advance, 
Chesterton let himself go. He attacked the 
Government for its alleged nepotism, dis 
honesty, and corruption. He ended one such 
article with, ; There is nothing but a trumpet 
at midnight, calling for volunteers." The New 
Statesman then published an article, "Trum 
pets and How to Blow Them," suggesting, 
among other things, that there was little use 

174 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

in being merely destructive. It is typical of 
what I have called the decadence of Chesterton 
that he borrowed another writer s most offen 
sive description of a lady prominently con 
nected with The New Statesman in order to 
quote it with glee by way of answer to this 
article. The Syndicalist hates the Socialist 
for his catholicity. The Socialist wishes to 
see the world a comfortable place, the Syndica 
list merely wishes to work in a comfortable 
factory. Chesterton seized the opportunity, 
being mildly rebuked by a Socialist paper, to 
declare that the Fabians " are constructing a 
man-trap." A little later on he writes, with 
reference to a controversialist s request, that 
he should explain why, after all, he was not 
a Socialist : 

If he wants to know what the Marconi Scandal has 
saved us from, I can tell him. It has saved us from 
Socialism. My God ! what Socialism, and run by 
what sort of Socialists ! My God ! what an escape ! 
If we had transferred the simplest national systems 
to the State (as we wanted to do in our youth) it is 
to these men that we should have transferred them. 

There never was an example of more muddled 
thinking. Let us apply it to something 
definite, to that harmless, necessary article of 
diet, milk, to be precise, cow s milk. To-day 
milk is made expensive by a multiplicity of 

175 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

men who have interests in keeping milk expen 
sive. There are too many milkmen s wages 
to be paid, too many milk-carts to be built, 
too many shop-rents paid, and too much 
apparatus bought, simply because we have 
not yet had the intelligence to let any munici 
pality or county run its own milk-service and 
so avoid all manner of duplication. Chester 
ton s answer to this is : "I used to think so, 
but what about Lord Murray, Mr. Lloyd 
George, and Mr. Godfrey Isaacs ? It would 
be as relevant to say, What about Dr. 
Crippen, Jack Sheppard, and Ananias," or, 
" But what about Mr. Bernard Shaw, the 
Grand Duke Nicolas, and my brother ? The 
week later Chesterton addresses the Labour 
Party in these words : 

Comrades (I mean gentlemen), there is only one 
real result of anything you have done. You have 
justified the vulgar slander of the suburban Con 
servatives that men from below are men who merely 
want to rise. It is a lie. No one knows so well as 
you that it was a lie : you who drove out Grayson 
and deserted Lansbury. Before you went into 
Parliament to represent the working classes, the 
working classes were feared. Since you have repre 
sented the working classes, they are not even respected. 
Just when there was a hope of Democracy, you have 
revived the notion that the demagogue was only the 
sycophant. Just when there had begun to be an 

176 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

English people to represent, you have been paid to 
misrepresent them. Get out of our path. Take your 
money ; go. 

Regarding which passage there is only to be 
said that it is grossly unjust both to the Labour 
Party and to the working classes. It was 
followed up in subsequent numbers by violent 
attacks on woman suffrage and the economic 
independence of women; a proceeding quite 
commendably amusing in a paper with a 
patron saint surnamed Pankhurst. A promise 
to say no more about Votes for Women was 
followed by several more spirited references 
to it, from the same point of view. After which 
Chesterton cooled off and wrote about detec 
tive stories, telephones, and worked himself 
down into an all-round fizzle of disgust at 
things as they are, to illustrate which " I will 
not run into a paroxysm of citations again," 
as Milton said in the course of his Epistle in 
two books on Reformation in England. 

The most unpleasant feature of The Daily 
Herald articles is the assumption of superiority 
over the British working man, expressing 
itself in the patronizing tone. The British 
working man, as Chesterton sees him, is a very 
different person from what he is. If the Middle 
Ages had been the peculiar period Chesterton 
appears to believe it was, then his working 
M 177 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

man would be merely a trifling anachronism 
of five centuries or so. But he is not even that. 
Five centuries would be but a trifle compared 
with the difference between him and his real 
self. Chesterton s attitude towards the work 
ing man must resemble that of a certain 
chivalrous knight towards the distressed dam 
sel he thought he had rescued. He observed, 
44 Well, little one, aren t you going to show me 
any gratitude ? And the lady replied, 44 1 
wasn t playing Andromeda, fathead, I was 
looking for blackberries. Run away and play." 

The attitude of the middle-class suburbanite 
towards the working man and his wife is not 
exactly graceful, but the former at any rate 
does not pretend to love the latter, and to find 
all decency of feeling and righteousness of 
behaviour in them. Chesterton both pretends 
to reverence the working classes, and exhibits 
a profound contempt for them. He is never 
happier than when he is telling the working 
classes that they are wrong. He delights in 
attacking the Labour Party in order to have 
the supreme satisfaction of demonstrating that 
working men are their own worst enemies. 

At the beginning of August, 1914, the Great 
War broke out, and everything seemed changed. 
No man now living will be able to say definitely 
what effects the war will have upon literature, 

178 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

but one thing is certain : nothing will remain 
the same. We have already learned to view 
each other with different eyes. For better or 
for worse, old animosities and party cleavages 
have given way to unforeseen combinations. 
To assert that we have all grown better would 
be untrue. But it might reasonably be argued 
that the innate generousness of the British 
people has been vitiated by its childlike trust 
in its journalists, and the men who own them. 
When Mr. Bernard Shaw wrote a brilliant 
defence of the British case for intervention in 
the war, his mild denigration of some of the 
defects of the English nation, a few trivial 
inaccuracies, and his perverse bellicosity of 
style made him the object of the attentions of 
a horde of panic-stricken heresy-hunters. Those 
of us who had not the fortune to escape the 
Press by service abroad, especially those of us 
who derived our living from it, came to loathe 
its misrepresentation of the English people. 
There seemed no end to the nauseous vomits 
of undigested facts and dishonourable preju 
dices that came pouring out in daily streams. 
Then we came to realize, as never before, the 
value of such men as Chesterton. Christianity 
and the common decencies fare badly at the 
hands of the bishops of to-day, and the 
journalists threw them over as soon as the 

179 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

war began. But, unfortunately for us all, 
G.K.C. fell seriously ill in the early period of 
the war, and was in a critical state for many 
months. But not before he had published a 
magnificent recantation for it is no less of 
all those bitternesses which, in their sum, had 
very nearly caused him to hate the British. 
It is a poem, Blessed are the Peacemakers. 

Of old with a divided heart 

I saw my people s pride expand, 
Since a man s soul is born apart 

By mother earth and fatherland. 

I knew, through many a tangled tale, 
Glory and truth not one but two : 

King, Constable and Amirail 

Took me like trumpets : but I knew 

A blacker thing than blood s own dye 

Weighed down great Hawkins on the sea ; 

And Nelson turned his blindest eye 
On Naples and on liberty. 

Therefore to you my thanks, O throne, 

O thousandfold and frozen folk, 
For whose cold frenzies all your own 

The Battle of the Rivers broke ; 

Who have no faith a man could mourn, 

Nor freedom any man desires ; 
But in a new clean light of scorn 

Close up my quarrel with my sires ; 

Who bring my English heart to me, 
Who mend me like a broken toy ; 

Till I can see you fight and flee, 
And laugh as if I were a boy. 

180 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

When we read this poem, with its proclama 
tion of a faith restored, Chesterton s temporary 
absence from the field of letters appears even 
more lamentable. For even before his break 
down he had given other signs of a resurrection. 
Between the overworked descriptions of The 
Flying Inn and the little book The Barbarism 
of Berlin which closely followed it, there is a fine 
difference of style, as if in the interval Chester 
ton had taken a tonic. Thus there is a jolly pas 
sage in which, describing German barbarism, he 
refers to the different ways of treating women. 

The two extremes of the treatment of women 
might be represented by what are called the respect 
able classes in America and in France, In America 
they choose the risk of comradeship ; in France the 
compensation of courtesy. In America it is practi 
cally possible for any young gentleman to take any 
young lady for what he calls (I deeply regret to say) 
a joy-ride ; but at least the man goes with the woman 
as much as the woman with the man. In France the 
young woman is protected like a nun while she is 
unmarried ; but when she is a mother she is really a 
holy woman ; and when she is a grandmother she is 
a holy terror. By both extremes the woman gets 
something back out of life. France and America aim 
alike at equality America by similarity ; France 
by dissimilarity. But North Germany does actually 
aim at inequality. The woman stands up, with no 
more irritation than a butler ; the man sits down, 
with no more embarrassment than a guest. 

181 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

And so on. It runs very easily ; we recognize 
the old touch ; the epigrams are not worked 
to death ; and the chains of argument are not 
mere strings of damped brilliancies. And before 
1914 had come to its end, in another pamphlet, 
Letters to an Old Garibaldian, the same style, 
the same freshness of thought, and the same 
resurgent strength were once again in evidence. 
Then illness overcame. 

Of all futures, the future of literature and 
its professors is the least predictable. We have 
all, so to speak, turned a corner since August, 
1914, but we have not all turned the same way. 
Chesterton would seem to have felt the great 
change early in the war. Soon he will break 
his silence, and we shall know whether we have 
amongst us a giant with strength renewed or 
a querulous Nonconformist Crusader, agreeing 
with no man, while claiming to speak for 
every man. Early in the course of this study 
a distinction was drawn between Christians 
and Crusaders. Chesterton has been through 
out his career essentially a Crusader. He set 
out to put wrongs to rights in the same spirit ; 
in much the same spirit, too, he incidentally 
chivvied about the Jews he met in his path, 
just as the Crusaders had done. He fought for 
the Holy Sepulchre, and gained it. Like the 

182 



A DECADENT OF SORTS 

Crusaders, he professed orthodoxy, and, like 
them, fell between several " orthodoxies." 
He shared their visions and their faith, so far 
as they had any. But one thing is true of all 
Crusaders, they are not necessarily Christians. 
And there is that about Chesterton which 
sometimes makes me wonder whether, after 
all, he is not " a child of the French Revolu 
tion " in a sense he himself does not suspect. 
He has cursed the barren fig-tree of modern 
religious movements. But there comes a sus 
picion that he denies too much ; that from 
between those supple sentences and those too 
plausible arguments one may catch a glimpse 
of the features of a mocking spirit. Chesterton 
has given us the keenest enjoyment, and he 
has provoked thought, even in the silly atheist. 
We all owe him gratitude, but no two readers 
of his works are likely to agree as to the causes 
of their gratitude. That, in itself, is a tribute. 
Wherefore let it be understood that in writing 
this study I have been speaking entirely for 
myself, and if any man think me misguided, 
inappreciative, hypercritical, frivolous, or any 
thing else, why, he is welcome. 



183 






BIBLIOGRAPHY (To JULY, 1915) 

WORKS 

1900. Greybeards at Play. Brimley Johnson. 

Cheaper edition, 1902. 

The Wild Knight. Grant Richards. Second 
edition, Brimley Johnson, 1905. Enlarged 
edition, Dent, 1914. 

1901. The Defendant. Brimley Johnson. Second 

enlarged edition, 1902. Cheap edition, 
in Dent s Wayfarer s Library, 1914. 

1902. Twelve Types. A. L. Humphreys. Partly 

reprinted as Five Types, 1910, same 
publisher. Cheap edition, 1911. 
G. F. Watts. Duckworth. In Popular Library 
of Art. Reissued at higher price, 1914. 

1903. Robert Browning. In English Men of Letters 

Series. Macmillan. 

1904. The Patriotic Idea. In England a Nation. 

Edited by Lucien Oldershaw. Brimley 
Johnson. 

The Napoleon of Notting Hill. John Lane. 
With 7 full-page illustrations by W. Graham 
Robertson and a Map of the Seat of War. 
185 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

1905. The Club of Queer Trades. Harper. Cheap 

edition, Hodder and Stoughton, 1912. 
Heretics. John Lane. 

1906. Charles Dickens. Methuen. Cheaper edition, 

1907. Popular edition, 1913. 

1908. The Man who was Thursday. Arrowsmith. 
All Things Considered. Methuen. 
Orthodoxy. John Lane. 

1909. Tremendous Trifles. Methuen. 

1910. Alarms and Discursions. Methuen. 

Five Types. A. L. Humphreys. Reprinted 

from Twelve Types, 1905. 
What s Wrong, with the World? Cassell. 

Cheap edition, 1912. 
William Blake. Duckworth. In Popular 

Library of Art. 
George Bernard Shaw. John Lane. Cheap 

edition, 1914. 
The Ball and the Cross. Wells Gardner, Darton. 

1911. The Ballad of the White Horse. Methuen. 
Appreciations of Dickens. Dent. Reprinted 

prefaces from Everyman Series edition of 
Dickens. 
The Innocence of Father Brown. Cassell. 

1912. Simplicity and Tolstoy. A. L. Humphreys. 

Another edition, H. Siegle. In Watteau 

Series, 1913. 

A Miscellany of Men. Methuen. 
Manalive. Nelson. 

186 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 

1913. Magic. Martin Seeker. 

The Victorian Age in Literature. Williams 
and Norgate. In Home University Library. 

1914. The Wisdom of Father Brown. Cassell. 

The Flying Inn. Methuen. (The Songs of 
the Simple Life appeared originally in The 
New Witness.) 

The Wild Knight. Dent. Enlarged edition, 
first published 1900. 

The Barbarism of Berlin. Cassell. 

Letters to an Old Garibaldian. Methuen. 

1915. Poems. Burns and Gates. 

And articles on Tolstoy, Stevenson, Tennyson, 
and Dickens in a series of booklets pub 
lished by The Bookman, 1902-1904. 

PREFACES TO THE FOLLOWING BOOKS 

1902. Past and Present. By Thomas Carlyle. In 

World s Classics. Grant Richards. 

1903. Life of Johnson. Extracts from Bos well. 

Isbister. 

1904. The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. By 

O. W. Holmes. Red Letter Library. 

Blackie. 
Sartor Resartus. By Thomas Carlyle. Cas- 

sell s National Library. 
The Pilgrim s Progress. By John Bunyan. 

Cassell s National Library. 
187 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

1905. Creatures That Once Were Men. By Maxim 

Gorky. Rivers. 

1906 etc. Works of Dickens. In Everyman Library. 
Dent. 

1906. Essays. By Matthew Arnold. In the Every 

man Library. Dent. 

Literary London. By Elsie M. Lang. Werner 
Laurie. 

1907. The Book of Job. (Wellwood Books.) 

From Workhouse to Westminster ; the Life 
Story of Will Crooks, M.P. By George 
Haw. Cassell. Cheaper edition, 1908. 

1908. Poems. By John Ruskin. Muses Library. 

Routledge. 

The Cottage Homes of England. By W. W. 
Crotch. Industrial Publishing Co. 

1909. A Vision of Life. By Darrell Figgis. Lane. 

Meadows of Play. By Margaret Arndt. Elkin 
Mathews. 

1910. Selections from Thackeray. Bell. 

Eyes of Youth. An Anthology. Herbert and 
Daniel. 

1911. Samuel Johnson. Extracts from, selected by 

Alice Meynell. Herbert and Daniel. 

The Book of Snobs. By W. M. Thackeray. 
Red Letter Library. Blackie. 
188 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 

1912. Famous Paintings Reproduced in Colour. 

Cassell. 

The English Agricultural Labourer. By A. H. 
Baverstock. The Vineyard Press. 

Fables. By ^sop. Translated by V. S. 
Vernon Jones. Illustrated by Arthur Rack- 
ham. Heinemann. 

1913. The Christmas Carol. In the Waverley 

Dickens. 

1915. Bohemia s Claim for Freedom. The London 
Czech Committee. 

ILLUSTRATIONS TO THE FOLLOWING BOOKS BY 
OTHER WRITERS 

1901. Nonsense Rhymes. By W. C. Monkhouse. 
Brimley Johnson. Cheaper edition, 1902. 

1903. The Great Enquiry. By H. B. (Hilaire Belloc). 

Duckworth. 

1904. Emmanuel Burden. By Hilaire Belloc. 

Methuen. 

1905. Biography for Beginners. By E. Clerihew. 

Cheaper edition, Werner Laurie, 1908. 
Cheap edition, 1910. 

1912. The Green Overcoat. By Hilaire Belloc. 
Arrowsmith. 

189 



G. K. CHESTERTON 

CONTRIBUTIONS TO PERIODICALS 
Bookman. From 1898 onwards, passim. 

The Speaker (afterwards The Nation). From 1898 
onwards. 

The Daily News. Weekly article, 1900-1913. Also 
occasional poems and reviews. 

The Daily Herald. Weekly article, 1913-1914. 
The Illustrated London News. 1905-1914 ; 1915- 

The Eye-Witness (afterwards The New Witness). 

Poems and articles, 1911 onwards. 
Also correspondence columns of The Tribune (1906- 

1908), The Clarion, and the London Press in 

general. 

The Oxford and Cambridge Review (afterwards The 
British Review). Articles 1911, etc. 

The Dublin Review. Occasional articles. 



CONTRIBUTIONS TO OFFICIAL PUBLICATIONS 

Evidence before the Joint Select Committee of the 
House of Lords and the House of Commons on 
Stage Plays (Censorship), included in the Minutes 
of Evidence, 1909. 

190 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 

SPEECHES 

1908. The Press. Speech at Pan-Anglican Congress. 
Proceedings published by The Times. 

1910. What to do with the Backward Races. Speech 
at the Nationalities and Subject Races 
Conference, London. Proceedings published 
by P. S. King. 

1914. Do Miracles Happen? Report of a Discussion 
at the Little Theatre in January, 1914. 
Published as a pamphlet by The Christian 
Commonwealth Co. 



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THE TURN OF THE SCREW. THE ASPERN PAPERS. 

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6 



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THE PUPIL. 



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THE REVERBERATOR. 
THE ALTAR OF THS DEAD. 
THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE. 
THE FIGURE IN THE CARPET. 

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THE SALAMANDER. 
MAKING MONEY. 
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A CORONAL : AN ANTHOLOGY. F cap Svo. zs.6d.net. 
LEWISOHN, L. 

THE MODERN DRAMA 
LLUELLYN, RICHARD 
THE IMPERFECT BRANCH. 
LOW, IVY 

THE QUESTING BEAST. 
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L.S.D. 

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CASUALS OF THE SEA. 

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LETTERS FROM GREECE. 

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10 



PART TWO : CLASSIFIED ff> 

Seekers 

INDEX OF TITLES 

General Literature 

ART OF BALLET, THE. By Mark E. Perugini. 
ART OF SILHOUETTE, THE. By Desmond Coke. 
BATTLE OF THE BOYNE, THE. By D. C. Boulger. 
BEHIND THE RANGES. By F. G. Afialo. 
BIRDS IN THE CALENDAR. By F. G. Aflalo. 
CAMILLE DESMOULINS. By Violet Methley. 
CARRIAGES AND COACHES. By Ralph Straus. 
CHRISTMAS CARD, A. By Filson Young. 
CUMBERLAND LITTERS, THE. By Clementina Black. 
DRAMATIC PORTRAITS. By P. P. Howe. 
FEMININE INFLUENCE ON THE POETS. By E. Thomas. 
GRAHAME OF CLAVERHOUSE. By Michael Barrington. 
HIEROGLYPHICS. By Arthur Machen. 
HISTORY OF THE HARLEQUINADE, THE. By M. Sand. 
LEADERS OF THE PEOPLE. By Joseph Clayton. 
LETTERS FROM GREECE. By John Mavrogordato. 
LINLEYS OF BATH, THE. By Clementina Black. 
MAHOMET. By G. M. Draycott. 
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT. By G. R. Stirling Taylor. 
NEW LEAVES. By Filson Young. 
PEOPLE AND QUESTIONS. By G. S. Street. 
PERSONALITY IN LITERATURE. By R. A. Scott-James. 
PSYCHOLOGY OF THE GREAT WAR. By Stirling Taylor. 
REAL CAPTAIN CLEVELAND, THE. By Allan Fea. 

REGILDING THE CRESCENT. By F. G. Aflalo. 

ii 



Martin 
SefkeSs 
Catalogue 



ROBERT KETT. By Joseph Clayton. 

SOCIAL HISTORY OF SMOKING, THE. By G. L, Apperson. 

SOME ECCENTRICS AND A WOMAN. By Lewis Melville. 

SPECULATIVE DIALOGUES. By Lascelles Abercrombie. 

STUPOR MUNDI. By Lionel Allshorn. 

TENTH MUSE, THE. By Edward Thomas. 

THOSE UNITED STATES. By Arnold Bennett. 

VIE DE BOHEME. By Orlo Williams. 

WILDE MYTH, THE. By Lord Alfred Douglas. 

WINDMILLS. By Gilbert Cannan. 



Verse 

COLLECTED POEMS OF J. E. FLECKER. 

COLLECTED POEMS OF F. M. HUEFFER. 

CARMINA VARIA. By C. Kennett Burrow. 

CORONAL, A. A New Anthology. By L. M. Lamont. 

GOLDEN JOURNEY TO SAMARKAND, THE. By J. E. 

Flecker. (See Collected Poems.) 
KENSINGTON RHYMES. By Compton Mackenzie. 



Drama 

DRAMATIC WORKS OF ST. JOHN HANKIN. 3 vols. 

DRAMATIC WORKS OF GERHART HAUPTMANN. 6 vols. 
CASSANDRA IN TROY. By John Mavrogordato. 
MAGIC. By G. K. Chesterton. 
MODERN DRAMA, THE. By L. Lewisohn. 
PEER GYNT. Translated by R. Ellis Roberts. 
REPERTORY THEATRE, THE. By P. P. Howe. 
THOMPSON. By St. John Hankin and G. Calderon. 

12 



Travel 

Catalogue 
AUSTRALASIAN WANDER YEAR, AN. By H. M. Faughan. 

EGYPTIAN ESTHETICS. By Rene Francis. 
FOUNTAINS IN THE SAND. By Norman Douglas. 
NOOKS AND CORNERS OF OLD ENGLAND. By Allan Tea. 
OLD CALABRIA. By Norman Douglas. 
OLD ENGLISH HOUSES. By Allan Fea. 
PERFUMES OF ARABY. By Harold Jacob. 



Martin Seeker s Series of 
Critical Studies 

ROBERT BRIDGES. By F. E. Brett Toung. 

SAMUEL BUTLER. By Gilbert Cannan. 

G. K. CHESTERTON. By Julius West. 

FEODOR DOSTOEVSKY. By J. Middleton Murry. 

GEORGE GISSING. By Frank Swinnerton. 

THOMAS HARDY. By Lascelles Abercrombie. 

HENRIK IBSEN. By R. Ellis Roberts. 

HENRY JAMES. By Ford Madox Hueffer. 

RUDYARD KIPLING. By Cyril Falls. 

MAURICE MAETERLINCK. By Una Taylor. 

GEORGE MEREDITH. By Orlo Williams. 

WILLIAM MORRIS. By John Drinkwater. 

WALTER PATER. By Edward Thomas. 

D. G. ROSSETTI. By John Drinkwater. 

BERNARD SHAW. By P. P. Howe. 

R. L. STEVENSON. By Frank Swinnerton. 

A. C. SWINBURNE. By Edward Thomas. 

J. M. SYNGE. By P. P. Howe. 

LEO TOLSTOI. By R. Ellis Roberts. 

WALT WHITMAN. By Basil de Selincourt. 

W. B. YEATS. By Forrest Reid. 

13 



Martin 
Seeker s 

Catalogue 



The Art and Craft of Letters 

BALLAD/THE. By Frank Sidgwick. 
COMEDY. By John Palmer. 
CRITICISM. By P. P. Howe. 
EPIC, THE. By Lascelles Abercrombie 
ESSAY, THE. By Orlo Williams. 
HISTORY. By R. H. Gretton. 
LYRIC, THE. By John Drinkwater. 
PARODY. By Christopher Stone. 
PUNCTUATION. By Filson Young. 
SATIRE. By Gilbert Cannan. 
SHORT STORY, THE. By Barry Pain. 



Fiction 

ALTAR OF THE DEAD, THE. By Henry James. 

ASPERN PAPERS, THE. By Henry James. 

BANKRUPT, THE. By Horace Horsndl. 

BANNER OF THE BULL, THE. By Rafael Sabatini. 

BATTLES OF LIFE. By Austin Philips. 

BEAST IN THE JUNGLE, THE. By Henry James. 

BREAKING-POINT. By Michael Artzibashef. 

BURNT HOUSE, THE. By Christopher Stone. 

CARNIVAL. By Compton Mackenzie. 

CASUALS OF THE SEA. By William McFee. 

COLLECTED TALES : Vol. I. By Barry Pain. 

COLLECTED TALES : Vol. II. By Barry Pain. 

COLUMBINE. By Viola Meynell. 

COMMON CHORD, THE. By Phyllis Bottome. 



COXON FUND, THE. By Henry James. Martin 

CREATED LEGEND, THE. By Feodor Sologub. Seeker s 

DAISY MILLER. By Henry James. Catalogue 

DARK TOWER, THE. By E. Brett Young. 

DEATH OF THE LION, THE. By Henry James. 

DEBIT ACCOUNT, THE. By Oliver Onions. 

DEEP SEA. By F. Brett Young. 

DUCHESS OF WREXE, THE. By Hugh Walpole. 

FIGURE IN THE CARPET, THE. By Henry James. 

FOOL S TRAGEDY, THE. By A. Scott Craven. 

FORTITUDE. By Hugh Walpole. 

GLASSES. By Henry James. 

GOLIGHTLYS, THE. By Laurence North. 

GUY AND PAULINE. By Compton Mackenzie. 

IMPATIENT GRISELDA. By Laurence North. 

IMPERFECT BRANCH, THE. By Richard Lluettyn. 

IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE EVIDENCE. By 0. Onions. 

IRON AGE, THE. By F. Brett Young. 

KING S MEN, THE. By John Palmer. 

L.S.D. By Bohun Lynch. 

LESSON OF THE MASTER, THE. By Henry James. 

LITTLE DEMON, THE. By Feodor Sologub. 

LOT BARROW. By Viola MeynelL 

MARRIAGE OF QUIXOTE, THE. By Donald Armstrong. 

MAKING MONEY. By Owen Johnson. 

MELEAGER. By H. M. Faugh an. 

MILLIONAIRE, THE. By Michael Artzibashef. 

MODERN LOVERS. By Viola MeynelL 

NARCISSUS. By Viola MeynelL 

OLD MOLE. By Gilbert Cannan. 

OLD HOUSE, THE. By Feodor Sologub. 

ONE KIND AND ANOTHER. By Barry Pain. 

IS 



Martin 
Seeker s 
Catalogue 



OUTWARD APPEARANCE, THE. By Stanley V. Makower. 

PASSIONATE ELOPEMENT, THE. By Compton Mackenzie. 

PETER PARAGON. By John Palmer. 

PUPIL, THE. By Henry James. 

QUESTING BEAST, THE. By Ivy Low. 

RECORD OF A SILENT LIFE, THE. By Anna Preston. 

REVERBERATOR, THE. By Henry James. 

ROUND THE CORNER. By Gilbert Cannan. 

SALAMANDER, THE. By Owen Johnson. 

SANINE. By Michael Artzibashef. 

SEA HAWK, THE. By Rafael Sabatini. 

SECURITY. By Ivor Brown. 

SINISTER STREET. I. By Com-pton Mackenzie. 

SINISTER STREET. II. By Com-pton Mackenzie. 

STORY OF LOUIE, THE. By Oliver Onions. 

TALES OF THE REVOLUTION. By M. Artzibashef. 

TELLING THE TRUTH. By William Hewlett. 

TRUE DIMENSION, THE. By Warrington Dawson. 

TURN OF THE SCREW, THE. By Henry James. 

UNCLE S ADVICE. By William Hewlett. 

UNDERGROWTH. By F. fc? E. Brett Young. 

UNDERMAN, THE. By Joseph Clayton. 

UNOFFICIAL. By Bohun Lynch. 

WIDDERSHINS. By Oliver Onions. 

YEARS OF PLENTY. By Ivor Brown. 

YOUNG EARNEST. By Gilbert Cannan. 



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