Saturday, February 04, 2006

Journalism 101-Final Edition

Chesterton:
"The scene now changes to the newspaper office. The writer of the article has discovered his mistake and wants to correct it by the next day: but the next day is Sunday. He cannot post a letter, so he rings up the paper and dictates a letter by telephone.

He leaves the title to his friends at the other end; he knows that they can spell "Gray," as no doubt they can: but the letter is put down by journalistic custom in a pencil scribble and the vowel may well be doubtful. The friend
writes at the top of the letter " 'G.K.C.' Explains," putting the initials in quotation marks.

The next man passing it for press is bored with these initials (I am with him there) and crosses them out, substituting
with austere civility, "Mr. Chesterton Explains." But - and now he hears the iron laughter of the Fates, for the blind bolt is about to fall - but he neglects to cross out the second "quote" (as we call it) and it goes up to press with a "quote" between the last words.

Another quotation mark at the end of "explains" was the work of one merry moment for the printers upstairs. So the inverted commas were lifted entirely off one word on to the other and a totally innocent title suddenly turned into a blasting sneer.

But that would have mattered nothing so far, for there was nothing to sneer at. In the same dark hour, however, there was a printer who was (I suppose) so devoted to this Government that he could think of no Gray but Sir Edward Grey. He spelt it "Grey" by a mere misprint, and the whole tale was complete: first blunder, second blunder, and final condemnation.

That is a little tale of journalism as it is; if you call it egotistic and ask what is the use of it I think I could tell you. You might
remember it when next some ordinary young workman is going to be hanged by the neck on circumstantial evidence."

I like the little knife point at the end!
And it seems to me that this essay could easily be called "GKC Explains."

It reminds me of an editing gaff I found once in a book, my own writing, unfortunately had been butchered, and I realized that no book, no article, can ever be perfect, for humans are working on it at every step of the way. A friend who pays attention to such detail recently related how he found two errors in his Bible. Things happen. Letters are overlooked, misprints happen. Remember that when you see spelling errors right here on the 'ole ACS Blogarooba, please.

14 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this. I am drawn to Chesterton’s essays and this has been one of my favorites since I first experienced it as a dramatic reading in “The Daily Truth” episode of EWTN’s “Apostle of Common Sense” series. I marvel at the thoughts and prose Chesterton put together under a deadline and can only imagine what it must have been like to see him in a debate.

    By the way, I am a little late to this Blog having just been referred by last week's arrival of the Christmas issue of Gilbert Magazine. Considering that I think Christmas afternoon is a perfectly appropriate time to compose Christmas Cards and that actually stamping and addressing them is a wholly different task, the timing of Gilbert's arrival with several “return to sender forwarding address expired” cards indeed suits me. Merry February to all.

    I would like to say that I discovered Chesterton when Dale Ahlquist ventured to Rome (Rome, Georgia that is) to give an introductory talk at St. Mary’s Church. I remember much of the talk and the inspiration, but the Chesterton quote that launched my new passion was:

    You say grace before meals.
    All right.
    But I say grace before the play and the opera,
    And grace before the concert and pantomime,
    And grace before I open a book,
    And grace before sketching, painting,
    Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
    And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

    I began with Everlasting Man and have been losing sleep ever since.

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  2. Tom, welcome aboard, good to have you here. I like that quote of Chesterton's too, about saying grace before everything. THAT shows you have Chesterton's mind works, too. And his heart, and his soul. That's why I love him so much, he's so Christ-like.

    And you aren't late: we're just getting started here! Think Carpenter's "...we've only just begun...."

    You moved on from The Everlasting Man?? :-) Wow. That book is going to take me a lifetime.

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  3. Hello, Tom! We have something in common, for The Everlasting Man was my first Chesterton book too (and Dale's). Some people don't recommend it as the first Chesterton book to read, but I think it's perfect; after that, everything else seems easy. ;)

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  4. I love to introduce people to Chesterton with Everlasting Man by telling them to enjoy the ride; just let go and let the prose, the thoughts, and the imagery sweep you up to his stunning conclusions.

    Having ridden once by no means qualifies me as an expert on all the scenery. I face a dilemma ever time I finish a GKC book. Should I start a new one or revisit one I have finished but not yet fully explored. One day soon, I am sure I will return to Everlasting Man and realize how much I missed the first time through. As an example, I give you a bit of prose whose full profundity I hadn't begun to contemplate until I re-read it and made it the centerpiece of my belated Christmas cards this year:

    A mass of legend and literature has sprung from this single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, all the literature of our faith was founded. . . [it is] something too good to be true, except that it is true.


    By the way, thank you for this Blog and the opportunity to meet fellow Chestertonians.

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  5. Don't thank me, thank Nancy, who has taken the time and effort to make all this a reality.

    And that is one of my favorite passages in EM. After reading part of that chapter to friends in December, I decided to make reading it out loud a family tradition every Christmas.

    Another great passage is the end of the chapter, "The Witness of the Heretics."

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  6. Well then I will thank you for your efforts at Gilbert Magazine and I am indeed grateful to Nancy for making this forum available; it feels like a community to me which is refreshing in a Blog.
    Looks like I need to re-read EM when I am done with the current issue of Gilbert!

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  7. I'm the spoil sport who has never been able to make it through Everlasting Man. I love GKC, but find most of his writing impenetrable. Modern failure of attention span? The man did take forever to make a point.

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  8. There are some days when Chesterton's prose rolls right off the page and easily resonates in my mind; other days, perhaps when I am too lost in the modern fog, I struggle mightily with the meaning and flow of his work.
    It's always rewarding, but, as they say on Sportscenter, I can only be "en fuego" so often.

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  9. Kurm, I agree, there are times when I think "Where WAS the Editor on this???" I think some of Chesterton's mind musings do rattle on. And, like Tom says, some days I just roll with it and think, "isn't it fascinating to see how his mind works? It's like reading his thoughts" and other days I think, "Get to the POINT, man!"

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  10. Perhaps my difficulty has more to do with the training of the modern American brain? I am currently re-reading Orthodoxy, and see that, if I slow myself down, I don't get as exasperated with his glacial progress as usual. And looking for phrases to provide titles for paintings is helpful.

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  12. I often find it helpful to prime myself for a Chesterton book by reading the appropriate chapter in Dale Ahlquist's book, The Apostle of Common Sense, or the relevant material on the ACS website. When I know a little in advance about where I am going I am able to enjoy the ride and soak in more of the scenery.

    Here is an excerpt from Dale's chapter on Everlasting Man:

    C.S. Lewis was an atheist until he read Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man, but he wasn’t afterwards, prompting him to observe that a young man who is serious about his atheism cannot be too careful about what he read.

    2/11/2006 3:25 PM

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  13. Tom:
    This, "I often find it helpful to prime myself for a Chesterton book by reading the appropriate chapter in Dale Ahlquist's book, The Apostle of Common Sense, or the relevant material on the ACS website. When I know a little in advance about where I am going I am able to enjoy the ride and soak in more of the scenery."

    is great advice for anyone. I love Dale's book and recommend it often for introductory material to the 10 books he talks about.

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  14. See, I'm so easy. My fascination with Chesterton came as a result of reading Pearce's biography. No clue where I stumbled across the reference -- I'd never heard of GKC before. Never.

    I unabashedly admit that my primary fascination had to do with his similar weight and similar attraction to cigars. What's not to like?

    I AM abashed to admit that findng his writing all but unreadable unless I find some way to slow myself down and not allow impatience to ruin things, and I admit that isn't often. My biggest not-so-secret-sin is a tendency to rage (currently turned on by the movement to end internet tobacco purchases) that just isn't healthy, nor appealing. My wife still loves me, she says!

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