Friday, February 03, 2006

Journalism 101-part Seven

I can tell that if I were Chesterton, trying to blog this, I'd have to figure out that "Read More" function so that this would have been one long post, and not broken up into bits. Then those who really were interested could read it all at once, and those who weren't would have new things to read.

When I get time next week, I'll investigate that "Read More" feature. Now, on with Chesterton's essay:

"He sits down desperately; the messenger rings at the bell; the children
drum on the door; the servants run up from time to time to say the
messenger is getting bored; and the pencil staggers along, making the
world a present of fifteen hundred unimportant words, and making
Shakespeare a present of a portion of Gray's Elegy; putting
"fantastic roots wreathed high" instead of "antique roots peep out."
Then the journalist sends off his copy and turns his attention to
the enigma of whether a brother should commandeer a sister's
necklace because the sister pinched him at Littlehampton. That is the
first scene; that is how an article is really written."

And that is no doubt, exactly how this particular article of Chesterton's was written (I originally wrote "scritten" a sort of combination of "scribbled" and "written" and I rather like that word!) which gives us a great idea of how his mind works, don't you think?


  1. Excellent! Your "scritten" is what C. L. Dodgson called a "portmanteau" word: two meanings carried in one.

    For those who may not recognise the name of this math professor, that is the REAL name of Lewis Carroll, under which pen name those wonderful "Alice" stories were, uh, "scritten."

    As a computer guy, I am particularly delighted with the Alice stories. I actually read portions of them to my classes when I was doing my doctorate. (I'll defer the details to my own blogg.)

    It is true that Dodgson had a young friend named "Alice" but it is very curious to think that a math professor would write a fantasy where the heroine is named Alice - for the name derives from the Greek "alĂȘtheia" - which means truth. It goes to show the importance of choosing names in one's fiction!

    I have two other items to mention.

    First, if I am not mistaken, Nancy is quoting an essay from the Daily News; it is interesting to hear of its 1500 word requirement. GKC's essays for the Illustrated London News (which we acronym-ists like to write as ILN) were nominally 1500 words. He averaged, as I recall, 1458 words per column.

    Secondly, about GKC's description of "work" - this is how lots of other things are really done. People say that we ought not try to find out how sausage is made: actually, the "how it is really done" is one of the most fascinating, but least demonstrated, of human truths.

    Strangely, there is a human reason for it. GKC explains:

    "...there is one thing that no dramatist dare produce upon the stage. That thing is the thing called "Work." There is no playwright who would reproduce upon the stage the first four hours of an ordinary clerk's day. Nobody would send up the curtain at 8 o'clock on a man adding up figures, and send it down at 10 o'clock on a man still adding up figures. Even an Ibsenite audience would not support the silent symbolism of three scenes all of which were occupied with the same bricklayer laying bricks. We dare not say in artistic form how much there is of prose in men's lives; and precisely because we cannot say how much there is of prose, we cannot say how much there is of poetry." [GKC, A Handful of Authors 140]

    To which I must now return. Ah, yes, that's another thing you do not wish to watch: the unseen rituals of a lunatic computer guy, (or, if in a pompous mood, a lunatic software developer) desperately trying to guess a way of accomplishing yet another crazy customer request while keeping everything running correctly... (hee hee)

  2. I've definitely read this essay before. Which ILN collected works volume is it in? When was it published?

  3. The essay Nancy is quoting is from A Miscellany of Men (pp. 122-131) which (like his Tremendous Trifles) is mainly a collection of GKC's Daily News essays - he wrote weekly essays for that paper as well as for the Illustrated London News.

    Unfortunately, like the ILN essays for 1932 through 1936, none of these are yet in the Collected Works, unless they have recently released a new volume.

  4. In case you cannot wait to receive your "tactile" version of MM, here is GKC's motto for Stilton:

    Ver non semper viret; sed Stiltonia semper virescit.


    "Spring is not always green, but Stilton always turns green."

    Hee hee.

    Regaring the source of my supposed "brilliance" - well whatever is good, is from God. I can only take credit for my failures.

    But on your other point I would suggest that computer science degrees ought to require Chesterton. After all, he wrote so much about my subject, it is hard to know where to start... Ah! I know: "I often stare at windows." [GKC, "The Crime of Gabriel Gale" in The Poet and the Lunatics]

    Then again, so Chesterton ought to be required for degrees in anything.

    However! In case you are wondering, this idea is not from Chesterton but from Newman. See his extremely important book, The Idea of a University for details. Here is the short form, in my own words:

    "When one omits a field of study, the others will move in where they don't belong."

    This deserves a posting in itself; maybe next week.

  5. Whoa, Dr. T, you just described my university experience!


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