Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Chestertonian Thanksgiving

Forthwith, a selection of Chesterton on thanksgiving and gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!
...thanks are the highest form of thought... gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
A Short History of England CW20:463

we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them.
Orthodoxy CW1:268

I have often thanked God for the telephone...
What's Wrong With the World CW4:112 may say, if you like, that the bold determinist speculator is free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to curse, to thank, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say "thank you" for the mustard.
Orthodoxy CW1:228

We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?
Orthodoxy CW1:258

Briefly, any person, in any position, is a beggar who has nothing but thanks to give for a service.
ILN Feb 25 1911 CW29:44
Read more Thanksgiving thoughts here.

The shocking truth is that our creeds are continually changing, while our customs get stiffer and stiffer every day. That is to say, in effect, that we are bound always to do the same thing, but may give any number of nonsensical modern reasons for doing it. Everyone in the modern world is made to say "Thank you"; but anyone in the modern world is free to deny that gratitude is a good thing. Now surely it would be much better if a man were expected to understand and respect the idea of gratitude, but were allowed sometimes to express it in some other way than by saying "Thank you" to the lady who had passed him the salt. As, for instance, he might express it by falling on his knees before her, by offering her twopence out of his waistcoat pocket, by producing on the spur of the moment a short lyric on the subject of her beauty and benevolence, by giving her his card, by bursting into tears, or by passing the salt back to her. Each of these formal expressions of gratitude might be appropriate to some particular epoch, environment, or civilisation, this suiting a more leisurely, and that a more feverish age. But what is clearly essential in the matter is that the ideal of gratitude should not change: for gratitude is the first virtue of living things, first with dogs and with saints.
ILN Mar 23 1907 CW27:426

Happy is he who not only knows the causes of things, but who has not lost touch with their beginnings. Happy is he who still loves something that he loved in the nursery: he has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men,
but one, and has saved not only his soul but his life. I can count a fair list of things I have always desired and still desire - sword-blades, the coloured angels of religious art, a kind of cake called jumbles, Grimm's "Fairy Tales" and a shilling paint-box. Some of these things I confess thankfully that I now have (though jumbles have died with a decaying civilisation), but I am more thankful still that the desire in these cases remains. For
this is a great gift from God, to have things and still to desire them.
ILN Sept 26 1908 CW28:186-7

The news that some Europeans have been wrecked on a desert island is gratifying, in so far as it shows that there are still some desert islands for us to be wrecked on. Moreover, it is also interesting because these, the latest facts, actually support the oldest stories. For instance, superior critics have often sniffed at the labours of Robinson Crusoe, specifically upon the ground that he depended so much upon stores from the sunken wreck. But these actual people shipwrecked a few weeks ago depended entirely upon them; and yet the critics might not have cared for the billet. A few years ago, when physical science was still taken seriously, a very clever boys' book was written, called "Perseverance Island." It was written in order to show how "Robinson Crusoe" ought to have been written. In this story, the wrecked man gained practically nothing from the wreck. He made everything out of the brute materials of the island. He was, I think, allowed the advantage of some broken barrels washed up from the wreck with a few metal hoops round them. It would have been rather hard on the poor man to force him to make a copper-mine or a tin-mine. After all, the process of making everything that one wants cannot be carried too far in this world. We have all saved something from the ship. At the very least, there was something that Crusoe could not make on the island; there was something Crusoe was forced to steal from the wreck; I mean Crusoe. That precious bale, in any case, he brought ashore; that special cargo called "R. C.," at least, did not originate in the island. It was a free import, and not a native manufacture. Crusoe might be driven to make his own trousers on the island. But he was not driven to make his own legs on the island; if that had been his first technical job he might have approached it with a hesitation not unconnected with despair. Even the pessimist when he thinks, if he ever does, must realise that he has something to be thankful for: he owes something to the world, as Crusoe did to the ship. You may regard the universe as a wreck: but at least you have saved something from the wreck.
ILN Oct 24, 1908 CW28:201-2

The difference between rebellion and anarchy is that rebellion, by its nature, achieves a purpose; and, having achieved that purpose, returns to the normal rhythm of law and order. Rebellion is as abnormal as an emetic or an amputation, and it is sometimes as wholesome. But it is only wholesome if it is an abnormality which is intended promptly and decisively to restore the normal. I may thank a doctor for cutting off my leg if I am in deadly peril of poison; but I shall not thank any gentleman who continually chips larger or smaller pieces off my leg accordingly as he thinks that I am not looking quite the thing. I may thank a doctor for making me sick, but not for occupying himself through a long and busy life in making all my food more or less sickening. So rebellion, because it is crucial, must be responsible. It must be thinking not only of the disease, not only of the brief and desperate remedy, but also of that healthy condition which it desires to render permanent; and which, when once effected, it will respect as a fixed thing. In other words, we may restate our original proposition thus: To be responsible for a rebellion is to be responsible for a new Government. Anyone who is in revolt ought to be mainly thinking of that condition of affairs against which he would not be in revolt. But I will have nothing to do with this notion of a nibbling anarchy; the perpetual doing of small, indefensible things.
ILN Nov 21 1908 CW28:218-9

Mr. Marinetti utters a contradiction in terms when he says that he likes motor-cars but dislikes museums. If men do not study previous science, they certainly will invent no further science. The poet's motor-car has been built up by the most elaborate and even meticulous study of the past. Sculpture or music might conceivably spring up spontaneously; but if there is one thing of all others that depends on the past it is mechanical science. Motor-cars are probably invented by people who
pass half their lives in museums. It is at least evident that the Italian writer has chosen a most unfortunate example to show his independence of his fathers that begat him. If he were going to be a naked savage, he would at least have only life to thank them for. But if he is going to be a luxurious modern motorist in a fur coat and goggles, why then he must go down on his knees and thank every man who ever lived, from the first barbarian who stripped off the furry skin of a beast to the last optician who invented a system of lenses. When Mr. Marinetti has invented a really modern motor-car, a car that does not include the ancient institution of wheels, or allow for the old-world posture of sitting, I shall be very much interested to
hear of that car. But I will not go in the car, even if he asks me.
Dec 18 1909 CW28:444

"Aren't those sparks splendid?" I said.
"Yes," he replied.
'That is all that I ask you to admit," said I. "Give me those few red specks and I will deduce Christian morality. Once I thought like you, that one's pleasure in a flying spark was a thing that could come and go with that spark. Once I thought that the delight was as free as the fire. Once I thought that red star we see was alone in space. But now I know that the red star is only on the apex of an invisible pyramid of virtues. That red fire is only the flower on a stalk of living habits, which you cannot see. Only because your mother made you say 'Thank you' for a bun are you now able to thank Nature or
chaos for those red stars of an instant or for the white stars of all time. Only because you were humble before fireworks on the fifth of November do you now enjoy any fireworks that you chance to see. You only like them being red because you were told about the blood of the martyrs; you only like them being bright because brightness is a glory. That flame flowered out of virtues, and it will fade with virtues. Seduce a woman, and that spark will be less bright. Shed blood, and that spark will be less red. Be really bad, and they will be to you like the spots on a wallpaper."
"The Diabolist" in Tremendous Trifles

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