Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dr. Thursday's Thursday Post

Another excellent post from Dr. Thursday, thanks so much for his Thursday work here.

Vice Squad
I am busy at present, and was unable to formulate an interesting commentary on another book in our serious of "Books GKC Read" which are available from Dover Publications. Don't worry there are plenty more to consider. But for today, since I have just seen an interesting post linking to a Chesterton quote about cigars, I thought you might enjoy this fragment of GKC, and also the story behind the story...

--Dr. Thursday
...numberless Americans smoke numberless cigars. But there does exist an extraordinary idea that ethics are involved in some way, and many who smoke really disapprove of smoking. I remember once receiving two American interviewers on the same afternoon; there was a box of cigars in front of me, and I offered one to each in turn. Their reaction (as they would probably call it) was very curious to watch. The first journalist stiffened suddenly and silently, and declined in a very cold voice. He could not have conveyed more plainly that I had attempted to corrupt an honourable man with a foul and infamous indulgence, as if I were the Old Man of the Mountain offering him the hashish that would turn him into an assassin. The second reaction was even more remarkable. The second journalist first looked doubtful; then looked sly; then seemed to glance about him nervously, as if wondering whether we were alone; and then said, with a sort of crestfallen and covert smile: "Well, Mr. Chesterton, I'm afraid I have the habit."

As I also have the habit, and have never been able to imagine how it could be connected with morality or immorality, I confess that I plunged with him deeply into an immoral life. In the course of our conversation I found he was otherwise perfectly sane, he was quite intelligent about economics or architecture, but his moral sense seemed to have entirely disappeared. He really thought it was rather wicked to smoke. He had no "standard of abstract right and wrong": in him it was not merely moribund, it was apparently dead.

The culture that is concerned here derives indirectly rather from New England than from Old America. It really does not seem to understand what is meant by a standard of right and wrong. It has a vague sentimental notion that certain habits were not suitable to the old log-cabin or the old home-town. It has a vague utilitarian notion that certain habits are not directly useful in the new amalgamated stores or the new financial gambling-hell. A man does not chop wood for the log-hut by smoking; and a man does not make dividends for the Big Boss by smoking; and therefore a smoke has a smell as of something sinful. Of what the great theologians and moral philosophers have meant by a sin, these people have no more idea than a child drinking milk has of a great toxicologist analysing poisons. It may be to the credit of their virtue to be thus vague about vice. The man who is silly enough to say, when offered a cigarette: "I have no vices," may not always deserve the rapier-thrust of the reply given by the Italian Cardinal: "It is not a vice, or doubtless you would have it." But at least a Cardinal knows it is not a vice; which assists the clarity of his mind. But the lack of clear standards among those who vaguely think of it as a vice may yet be the beginning of much peril and oppression.

[GKC ILN Feb 5 1927, CW34:250-252]
Now: Who is this Cardinal? Ah...

In The Master Diplomat subtitled "from the life of Leo XIII" by Rev. Robert Quardt (Alba House, 1964), page 105, is this:
For a time an artist was working in the Vatican who was an accomplished painter, but otherwise a rather irresponsible fellow. Leo knew this, but while he was watching the man at work one day, he became so enthused over hes capability that he wanted to reward him. This was done by offering him a sniff of snuff, which however, was declined by the artist with the very rude remark: "Holy Father, I really am not a victim of this vice." To this gauche remark Leo instantaneously retorted: "If this were a vice, you would have had it a long time ago."


  1. Great story AND great backstory - thanks for the refreshing dose of Chesterton on a Thursday morning...

    I've got a little discussion about distributism and Web 2.0 going on at my blog - would love to have you come check it out.

  2. Very interesting, stuff, Doctor. Now I have a good quote to use when people assail my own practice of this "vice."


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