Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dr. Thursday's Post

Last week we began my own very personal and technical and lunatic exploration of GKC's Orthodoxy. I began by examining the very opening - GKC's introductory Preface - and I am sure my lengthy essay gave you the impression that we'd never get out of the Preface - and into the Canon. (A little liturgical humour there, hee hee.) After you read this week's, I am sorry to say that I myself am starting to wonder whether I shall be able to get out of the Preface. It is not very long, and is not even really a part of the main writing, but as all Chestertonians know (let's all say it together!):
The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.
[GKC, "The Toy Theatre" in Tremendous Trifles]
In fact, after re-reading last week's LENGTHY essay, I feel a bit like Charlemagne, who when he stopped at a certain monastery for lunch, was served some blue cheese (I don't know if it was Roquefort; I don't think it was Stilton!). He proceeded to start picking out the blue mold, and one of the monks told him: "Sire, that part is the best of all."

You see, in my meticulous study of these few words, I left out one line - a line which I knew would get me into a long and even lengthier exploration of ... of the One Subject. Let me quote it now:
The writer has been driven back upon somewhat the same difficulty as that which beset Newman in writing his Apologia; he has been forced to be egotistical only in order to be sincere.
[GKC, Orthodoxy]
Ah. You are wondering why there is no CW1 in that footnote. (I must have been asleep last week.) Indeed! I must amend my larger study and indeed the larger status of the Chesterton domain, and report that my edition of the CW does NOT contain this preface!!! I shall ask Nancy to give it to you in its entirety, so you can print it and wedge it into your CW if your edition also lacks it.

To resume: I did not want to go into this line, in the introductory state I was attempting last week, because the topic of Newman is a large one - in some senses, larger than GKC, in that he was a priest and eventually a cardinal. But in so many senses, a comrade, a co-heir, a co-worker, a master intellect, a bountiful feast, and a great hero and icon of the Coming Restoration of Catholicism in England.

Who? Newman? John Henry Newman. Born 1801, died 1890. Englishman. Fellow and Tutor of Oriel College of Oxford. Anglican. Convert and Priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Created Cardinal in 1879. Writer of a vast number of books, including one of the most pivotal books I have ever read, The Idea of a University. (I mean pivotal in my own personal sense.)

GKC mentions him about 100 times in his own writing, in particular in The Victorian Age in Literature. If I had a connection to a college or university (I mean besides Chesterton University!) I would strongly urge a doctoral student to consider studying the connections and parallels between these two giants. I mention Chesterton University not with tongue in cheek. It is known to those of us who have read the rich dragon-trove of GKC's Illustrated London News essays that GKC himself wanted to found a university:
...perhaps I may leave in my will directions or (what is much more improbable) funds for the founding of a great university...
[GKC, ILN Oct 30 1926 CW34:193]
I know the ellipses make this quote sound a bit - uh - contrived. But if you want to know the context, you know what you must do.

And if you want to know more about the link between GKC and JHN, you must now click the button here.

The book by Newman which Chesterton alludes to in his preface is Apologia Pro Vita Sua That is, "An Apology For His Life" - where "Apology" is used in the classical sense for "Defence". Newman's book is about his own journey, and so is GKC's, as we shall see perhaps if I ever get finished with the Preface.

But there are other connections. There is a strong sense of University in Orthodoxy, despite the variation in the languages. University is "one turning"; Orthodoxy is "right/true opinion/teaching". And "university" is just the Latin for the Greek "catholic". I am not getting into some ecclesial matter here. I am trying to point out (in perhaps a very silly way) the fact that GKC's book tries to cover a very large topic - the All - and he finds he must do it by telling us about himself and his own experience. Which is what Newman also does, though with far greater rigor.

In my as-yet unpublished work on Subsidiarity, I quote Newman to assist in my discussion of a very technical detail, using his work to point to Right Opinion as a technical guide, and to avoid what for many others has been a downfall of - er - let us call it "Modern Management". I did this partly because I was delightfully shocked to find Newman's anticipation of Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum - but also because I am a technical person, and like to bring technical matters in association with each other. How else does a work from 1852 about founding a university apply to both a method for efficient satellite transport of television commercials and to the papal writing about workers, socialism, and unions from 1891? Well, Chesterton, being a writer, can be expected to bring literary matters together in unusual and surprising ways - he links Newman with Browning, with Shaw, and with Dickens. Not, perhaps, in a quantity which would lead to large books, or even journal articles - but enough to give a One Turn kind of feel to the vastness of literature being associated with Newman.

For example:
A mere sympathy for democratic merry-making and mourning will not make a man a writer like Dickens. But without that sympathy Dickens would not be a writer like Dickens; and probably not a writer at all. A mere conviction that Catholic thought is the clearest as well as the best disciplined, will not make a man a writer like Newman. But without that conviction Newman would not be a writer like Newman; and probably not a writer at all. It is useless for the aesthete (or any other anarchist) to urge the isolated individuality of the artist, apart from his attitude to his age. His attitude to his age is his individuality: men are never individual when alone.
[GKC, introduction, The Victorian Age in Literature]
I was going to quote a very interesting and long paragraph by GKC about Browning into which Newman is injected, but I find I cannot explain it well enough to make it interesting, because I do not know the poem being discussed. If I find it I shall do it another time, the paragraph has a lot to commend study.

And though I do not know any plays by Shaw (I mean I have never seen them, nor even read them) I do know Shaw through GKC, since he was mentioned as a "Heretic" - but remember how GKC explained that! I shall quote it again, though it is not as terse as some of GKC's aphorisms, it deserves to be studied for its moral guidance:
I am not concerned with Mr. Bernard Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive; I am concerned with him as a Heretic - that is to say, a man whose philosophy is quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong.
[GKC, Heretics CW1:46]
Indeed! Let us learn this well, and keep it in mind whenever we are led to write in disagreement with someone. It will also remind us of our Lord, Who called Herod "that fox" and the Pharisees "whitened sepulchres" and "brood of vipers" yet died for them too.

Perhaps this is a closer approach to an aphorism. What great controversialist of the Media of today, faced with such a question about his chief opponent, would answer as GKC did during a Q&A after a lecture:
[Questioner:] "Is George Bernard Shaw a coming peril?"
[GKC:] "Heavens, no. He is a disappearing pleasure."
[Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 590]
Having quoted these, let us hear GKC give us the dramatic link to Newman:
...there are people who say what they have to say best when they are saying it for themselves, and I am one of them and Mr. Shaw is another. Therefore, I always regard his plays as mere appendices to his thrilling and theatrical prefaces. If I read any vivid pieces of explanation in literature, such as Huxley's explanation of Evolution, or Newman's of Catholicism, I may very likely find some notes at the end of the book, giving special instances of the application. Huxley might add a particular case of a green cockatoo or a mongrel terrier. Newman might add a particular case of a Greek heresiarch or a seventeenth-century sectary. In the same way Mr. Shaw puts at the end of his stimulating treatise some notes, cast in dramatic form, about the particular case of a gentleman called Hotchkiss or a lady named Bridgnorth. But I leave all these notes for later reading. I want to know what Mr. Shaw thinks, not what Mr. Shaw thinks that Mr. Hotchkiss would think. And, to do Mr. Shaw justice, he has never shown any reluctance to let me know.
[GKC, ILN Apr 1, 1911 CW29:64]
Nor has Newman. I have no shame in admitting how little of Newman I have read - there is very much by him to read, and it is intellectually powerful and not always easy as GKC to consume. Moreover, it is not easy to get some of his lesser works. However! you can go here for an on-line collection. Also, our esteemed Chestertonian friend, Father Jaki, has a number of excellent books on Newman - see here if you are interested. (As you may already know, Fr. Jaki also has an excellent study of GKC and science.)

Alas, I find my time very short at the present, so perhaps you are going to be let go without my usual length. I have hardly begun to hint at the richness of Newman - and hardly even touched the link from JHN to GKC. But perhaps I shall have another turn in a week or so.

--Dr. Thursday

PS. Rather than completely forget about the Browning, I have decided to give you the quote, even if it is a bit long. If you know where "Sludge" can be found in the E-cosmos, please let us know. Also, if you are a student of poetry, it would be of real assistance to hear your insights, both into Browning's poem and on GKC's comments. Thanks!
The general idea is that Browning must have intended "Sludge" for an attack on spiritual phenomena, because the medium in that poem is made a vulgar and contemptible mountebank, because his cheats are quite openly confessed, and he himself put into every ignominious situation, detected, exposed, throttled, horsewhipped, and forgiven. To regard this deduction as sound is to misunderstand Browning at the very start of every poem that he ever wrote. There is nothing that the man loved more, nothing that deserves more emphatically to be called a speciality of Browning, than the utterance of large and noble truths by the lips of mean and grotesque human beings. In his poetry praise and wisdom were perfected not only out of the mouths of babes and sucklings [Ps 8:3], but out of the mouths of swindlers and snobs. Now what, as a matter of fact, is the outline and development of the poem of "Sludge"? The climax of the poem, considered as a work of art, is so fine that it is quite extraordinary that any one should have missed the point of it, since it is the whole point of the monologue. Sludge the Medium has been caught out in a piece of unquestionable trickery, a piece of trickery for which there is no conceivable explanation or palliation which will leave his moral character intact. He is therefore seized with a sudden resolution, partly angry, partly frightened, and partly humorous, to become absolutely frank, and to tell the whole truth about himself for the first time not only to his dupe, but to himself. He excuses himself for the earlier stages of the trickster's life by a survey of the border-land between truth and fiction, not by any means a piece of sophistry or cynicism, but a perfectly fair statement of an ethical difficulty which does exist. There are some people who think that it must be immoral to admit that there are any doubtful cases of morality, as if a man should refrain from discussing the precise boundary at the upper end of the Isthmus of Panama, for fear the inquiry should shake his belief in the existence of North America. People of this kind quite consistently think Sludge to be merely a scoundrel talking nonsense. It may be remembered that they thought the same thing of Newman. It is actually supposed, apparently in the current use of words, that casuistry is the name of a crime; it does not appear to occur to people that casuistry is a science, and about as much a crime as botany. This tendency to casuistry in Browning's monologues has done much towards establishing for him that reputation for pure intellectualism which has done him so much harm. But casuistry in this sense is not a cold and analytical thing, but a very warm and sympathetic thing. To know what combinations of excuse might justify a man in manslaughter or bigamy, is not to have a callous indifference to virtue; it is rather to have so ardent an admiration for virtue as to seek it in the remotest desert and the darkest incognito.

This is emphatically the case with the question of truth and falsehood raised in "Sludge the Medium."
[GKC, Browning]

1 comment:

  1. A quick Google search puts Mr. Sludge, “The Medium” here:


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