Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Jumblies

As some Chestertonians may already know, the wonderful company called Dover Publications has been reprinting several of GKC's novels, including Manalive, The Ball and the Cross, and Four Faultless Felons, thereby doing a great service to Chestertonians everywhere. (The Dover books by GKC are also available through American Chesterton Society.)

But GKC is not the only author they reprint. They have a most wonderful collection of titles, including some very important ones from history, language, mathematics, music, science - the list goes on and on. In case you are wondering, neither I nor anyone I know, nor any of my relatives or friends, has any connection with the company - I am simply a very satisfied customer, and I am very happy to tell people about them. Even in my own discipline of computer science I have obtained such interesting gems as Capek's play "R.U.R." which gave the world the word "robot" - and Gödel's 1931 doctoral dissertation which established the "Theorem of Incompleteness" which forever denies to science the atheological wish of a godless proof for the necessary existence of the universe - but there are so many others, like Biringuccio's Pyrotechnia (wiuth its powerful relevance to the Harry Potter discussion!) and Agricola's De Re Metallica (which is not about rock-and-roll!) and Faraday's The Chemical History of a Candle (how to classify THAT title!) and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (written by a Roman emperor, and referred to by GKC and Jaki!); Burnham's Celestial Handbook, and so on and on and on...

Certainly, as true Chestertonians, we are surely interested in all these things, since GKC was interested in everything - but perhaps there are some of Dover's treasures which may be of more than simply the common or garden form of Chestertonian universal interest...

And indeed there are. But which of those thousands of titles are they?

Well, perhaps I can mention a few...

With today's posting, I shall provide you with some of the Dover books which Chesterton himself read, or refers to, and which you may find worth adding to your library. In each case, I will give a sample or two of GKC's comments about a word, or title, or reference to a topic, then give the title and author, and a link to the Dover book presently available. In many cases I already have the book, but I won't spend the extra time reviewing it - the mere fact of its reference by GKC ought to be enough of an advertisement for it.

Even if this is just a shameless promotion of a great book publisher, it is gratifying to see that there are still some books being printed which GKC himself read and wrote about - besides the obvious ones like the Bible, Homer, Aquinas, Shapeskeare, and Dickens.

-- Dr. Thursday

Thursday, January 4, 2006: The Jumblies

Whether it be because the Fall has really brought men nearer to less desirable neighbours in the spiritual world, or whether it is merely that the mood of men eager or greedy finds it easier to imagine evil, I believe that the black magic of witchcraft has been much more practical and much less poetical than the white magic of mythology. I fancy the garden of the witch has been kept much more carefully than the woodland of the nymph. I fancy the evil field has even been more fruitful than the good. To start with, some impulse, perhaps a sort of desperate impulse, drove men to the darker powers when dealing with practical problems. There was a sort of secret and perverse feeling that the darker powers would really do things; that they had no nonsense about them. And indeed that popular phrase exactly expresses the point. The gods of mere mythology had a great deal of nonsense about them. They had a great deal of good nonsense about them; in the happy and hilarious sense in which we talk of the nonsense of Jabberwocky or the Land where the Jumblies live. But the man consulting a demon felt as many a man has felt in consulting a detective, especially a private detective: that it was dirty work but the work would really be done. A man did not exactly go into the wood to meet a nymph; he rather went with the hope of meeting a nymph. It was an adventure rather than an assignation. But the devil really kept his appointments and even in one sense kept his promises; even if a man sometimes wished afterwards, like Macbeth, that he had broken them.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:250]

Nonsense may be described as humour which has for the moment renounced all connection with wit. It is humour that abandons all attempt at intellectual justification; and does not merely jest at the incongruity of some accident or practical joke, as a by-product of real life, but extracts and enjoys it for its own sake. Jabberwocky is not a parody on anything; the Jumblies are not a satire on anybody; they are folly for folly's sake on the same lines as art for art's sake, or more properly beauty for beauty's sake; and they do not serve any social purpose except perhaps the purpose of a holiday. Here again it will be well to remember that even the work of humour should not consist entirely of holidays. But this art of nonsense is a valuable contribution to culture..
[GKC From the entry for "Humour" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, reprinted in The Spice of Life, 29]

So: what are Jumblies?

They are imaginary creatures in the nonsense poem "The Jumblies" by Edward Lear - available in The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear, 71-74.

The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear

Note: elsewhere GKC refers to other poems from Lear's book, notably, "The Dong with the Luminous Nose", which appears in several places, including this very important paragraph:

It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men - so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two homeless agnostics in a pew of Mr. Campbell's chapel. "I say God is One," and "I say God is One but also Three," that is the beginning of a good quarrelsome, manly friendship. But our age would turn these creeds into tendencies. It would tell the Trinitarian to follow multiplicity as such (because it was his "temperament"), and he would turn up later with three hundred and thirty-three persons in the Trinity. Meanwhile, it would turn the Moslem into a Monist: a frightful intellectual fall. It would force that previously healthy person not only to admit that there was one God, but to admit that there was nobody else. When each had, for a long enough period, followed the gleam of his own nose (like the Dong) they would appear again; the Christian a Polytheist, and the Moslem a Panegoist, both quite mad, and far more unfit to understand each other than before.
[GKC, What's Wrong With the World CW4:49]


  1. This is amazing -

    Recently some works by Edward Lear were introduced to me, quite by accident - I did peruse them...

    Now, I am going to have to take an even closer look:)

    Thanks for posting, Dr. T!

  2. Marcus Aurelius' Meditations are still popular and famous. There was an interesting episode of Law & Order CI, in which an unscrupulous gang leader used Aurelius' Meditations to brainwash teenage boys with this Roman "Stoic warrior" stuff. Detective Gorin, that new super-educated psycho geek, goot the bad guy because he recognized that the boys were brainwashed with the Meditations. I like the comment of Gorin's boss, his captain, who, somewhat ironically, said that it was good to see our youth reading their Classics.

    But how does a medieval chemical/metallurgical tract like Pyrotechnia, supposedly also responsible for gunpowder that defeated the sword, signify and relate to the magic of Harry Potter? Harry could have faught with a magic sword, just like the Jedi. Or does Harry need magic explosives and fireworks like Gandalf?

  3. Maybe one needs to read the book to find the connection - Biringuccio was the Papal metallurgist, if I recall, nor does it mention fireworks, except in the sense that a smelter or furnace is a "fire works". I recall nothing about gunpowder, but it has been some time now since I read it. Curious...

    Didn't I see a Dr. T comment about this book elsewhere?

    (signed) "tom"

  4. Dr. T, the link to Dover Publications at the top of your excellent post needs to be fixed.

  5. Thanks - it is fixed. Watch for another posting tomorrow!


Join our FaceBook fan page today!