Monday, February 25, 2008

An interesting remark of GKC's

Gilbert magazine has been running a bit called "GKC on GKC" where they provide quotes Chesterton made about himself. Many are amusing, some are touching, and some are mysterious, like this one:
"So little, I realize with a groan, after an obscure and laborious life of writing, does anybody know about anything that I think or feel."
I do hope Frances knew. And perhaps he simply felt misunderstood? Certainly one does feel as if one knows Chesterton after reading him for a while. But maybe that is an illusion. After all, how well do we know ourselves? How well can we know someone else?


  1. Opening sentences of "The Holy Island" (R of Rome)

    "When I first saw one of the Papal Guard, or, to be exact, one of the
    Swiss Guard, I thought he looked like a harlequin. Many, I fear, will imagine that I mean by this that he looked silly or undignified. So little, I realize with a groan, after an obscure and laborious life of writing, does anybody know about anything that I think or feel. When I say he looked like a harlequin, I mean that he looked almost as sublime and splendid and poetical as a harlequin."

  2. Gramps: then I think this proves the sentence I wrote which suggested he feared being misunderstood, don't you?

  3. I think, in this present life, we can only know someone up to the point that he has given us of himself - whether by writing, by spoken words, or by actions...
    Seeing how much GKC wrote, and how much I for one have read of him, I think I have only a very small sense of what he is... So rare are those who are able to give others such a sense... alas... even when joined in holy matrimony! And how we long for the Inn at the End of the World, where we will know others even as we are known, all in the brilliant Light of God.

    There is a song about this, I heard on the radio some years ago, I think it is from a TV show, but the words are profound, and speak of the True Friend:

    "No one could ever know me,
    No one could ever see me,
    Seems you're the only one who knows
    What it's like to be me"
    (Rembrandts, "I'll Be There For You")

    Only God knows us that way now - He knows, quite well, what it is like to be ME. (See GKC's The Everlasting Man for details, and the reference text in the New part of the Bible.)

    It's up to us as we live to attempt two things: (1) to give each other at least a little of the Who-We-Are message; (2) to receive that message from others.

    Then we will be not simply Friends... but, as Aquinas wrote, Coheredes et Sodales... in our true homeland.

    --Dr. Thursday

  4. Was he misunderstood? Is he still?

    Father Ian Boyd (editor of The Chesterton Review) once said (reading a paper for a conference) that "Critics and general readers have slowly come to an agreement about the importance and interest of Chesterton's work. But there continues to be a serious division of opinion about the precise nature of his genius and the writings which are the best and most representative examples of it."

    A book retailer told me that he stocks just five Chesterton titles, and this meager offering is shelved in five different locations in his store, one each under fiction, essays, poetry, religion and murder mysteries. He also admits that the rare customer who comes in to ask for Chesterton, simply wants Chesterton, and goes patiently around to the five locations.

    W. H. Auden once suggested that there are really three Chestertons: literary, religious, and political.

    As someone who has served on the planning committee for Chesterton conferences, I can testify that whether or not Auden's classifications define Chesterton, they really do define Chestertonians. So, we have literary people, including lots of English majors, who want lectures on Chesterton the author of fiction and Chesterton the literary critic. The religious faction, with the clergy well represented, wants to focus on Chesterton's Christian apologetics and his defense of traditional morality. And then we have our noisy political bloc who want Distributism and What's Wrong with the World.

    The interesting thing is, each of these three groups thinks the other two groups are off the subject.

  5. Gramps: This is very insightful. Obviously, we come at Chesterton with our own selves, and who we are may define who we think others are. Although we try not to judge, it is in our nature to make comparisons and attempt to find similarities and differences between people.

    And that idea of the Inn, Dr. Thursday, yes. So appealing. Where everybody knows my name, and everything about me, and they like me anyway. *Sigh*. Can't wait, really!

  6. The interesting thing is, each of these three groups thinks the other two groups are off the subject.

    I guess I count my self among those primarily interested in his religious writing, but I hope I do not discount the other categories you mentioned. I love his fiction and criticism and struggle with the political/economic stuff. But it is all part of the joyful whole.


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