Sunday, June 21, 2009

" father..."

My father gave my mother books by Chesterton.
What about Chesterton's father?
--Dr. Thursday.

My father, who was serene, humorous and full of hobbies, remarked casually that he had been asked to go on what was then called The Vestry. At this my mother, who was more swift, restless and generally Radical in her instincts, uttered something like a cry of pain; she said, "Oh, Edward, don't! You will be so respectable! We never have been respectable yet; don't let's begin now." And I remember my father mildly replying, "My dear, you present a rather alarming picture of our lives, if you say that we have never for one single instant been respectable."
My father was a Liberal of the school that existed before the rise of Socialism; he took it for granted that all sane people believed in private property; but he did not trouble to translate it into private enterprise. His people were of the sort that were always sufficiently successful; but hardly, in the modern sense, enterprising. My father was the head of a hereditary business of house agents and surveyors, which had already been established for some three generations in Kensington; and I remember that there was a sort of local patriotism about it and a little reluctance in the elder members, when the younger first proposed that it should have branches outside Kensington. This particular sort of unobtrusive pride was very characteristic of this sort of older business men. I remember that it once created a comedy of cross-purposes, which could hardly have occurred unless there had been some such secret self-congratulation upon any accretion of local status. The incident is in more ways than one a glimpse of the tone and talk of those distant days.
My grandfather, my father's father, was a fine-looking old man with white hair and beard and manners that had something of that rounded solemnity that went with the old-fashioned customs of proposing toasts and sentiments. He kept up the ancient Christian custom of singing at the dinner-table, and it did not seem incongruous when he sang "The Fine Old English Gentleman" as well as more pompous songs of the period of Waterloo and Trafalgar.
My father was very universal in his interests and very moderate in his opinions; he was one of the few men I ever knew who really listened to argument; moreover, he was more traditional than many in the liberal age; he loved many old things, and had especially a passion for the French cathedrals and all the Gothic architecture opened up by Ruskin in that time. It was not quite so inconceivable that he might admit another side to modern progress.
I have begun with this fragment of a fairy play in a toy-theatre, because it also sums up most clearly the strongest influences upon my childhood. I have said that the toy-theatre was made by my father; and anybody who has ever tried to make such a theatre or mount such a play, will know that this alone stands for a remarkable round of crafts and accomplishments. It involves being in much more than the common sense the stage carpenter, being the architect and the builder and the draughtsman and the landscape-painter and the story-teller all in one. And, looking back on my life, and the relatively unreal and indirect art that I have attempted to practise, I feel that I have really lived a much narrower life than my father's.
I am just old enough to remember in infancy the world before telephones. And I remember that my father and my uncle fitted up the first telephone I ever saw with their own metal and chemicals, a miniature telephone reaching from the top bedroom under the roof to the remote end of the garden. I was really impressed imaginatively by this; and I do not think I have ever been so much impressed since by any extension of it.
[GKC Autobiography CW16:22,33,41-2,107]

Seventy years ago The Illustrated London News was established. Less than seventy years ago (considerably less, I think I may justly say) I was a little boy of ten. But even then my fate was linked darkly with this periodical, for my father had carefully collected the bound volumes of what was long the only illustrated paper; and I can see those pictures now by shutting my eyes. The word "illustration" really applies here, as it never does in modern novels or magazines. Those illustrations did illustrate, like a triangle on a blackboard. They illustrated not only the letterpress inside the volume, but the whole life outside, all my parents' memories and anecdotes and allusions at breakfast or dinner. If they spoke of the Commissariat scandals in the Crimea, I did not know what "Commissariat" meant, but I knew what "Crimea" meant, and even something of what it looked like. If they spoke of Louis Napoleon's later policy and defeat, I did not know about his policy, but I knew all about his face and his funny pointed beard - in which I was much more interested - at the time. To me the Crimea was a place and Louis Napoleon was a person: two truths that are really important and are omitted in modern history books. But I learnt my recent history not from a history book, but a sketch-book. Mine was unusual luck.
[GKC ILN June 8 1912 CW29:304]

For instance, if I have a hobby or a potential hobby, it is probably a toy theatre. Hobbies imply holidays; and while it is very arguable that journalists do no real work, it is also true that they have no real holidays. But if I had no need to cam my bread and cheese, and no country and no conscience and none of all those nonsensical things, I should settle down with a serious aim in life, which would be working a toy theatre. It is to me almost as much a box of miracles today, as it was when I first saw it as a baby; and I feel as if I knew that mimic world before I knew the real one. The gilded figures of a prince and princess glow in my memory against black oblivion, almost before the memory of my father who had made them for me; which things may be an allegory. Now this example is an understatement. I am in no sense alone in this taste; Stevenson and my father and many others evidently shared it. But it is an excellent example of something which, without being exactly eccentric, is just sufficiently out of the ordinary way to make it most improbable that any practical organiser would see it; or provide it, or put it into any definite class of things. I do not think I could say carelessly to a waiter, over my shoulder, 'Just get me a black coffee and a Benedictine and a toy theatre, will you?' I cannot imagine the head waiter roaring down the speaking tube, 'Three Manhattan cocktails and a toy theatre'. I cannot imagine it was mentioned among the minor luxuries printed on the piece of clockwork in the bedroom. But even if it was, it would not meet the case. Even if the waiter returned laden with toy theatres, as he sometimes comes laden with cigar-boxes, it would not solve the problem. For a hobby implies work as well as play; a process as well as a result. It would be a little nearer the mark if the head waiter brought me trays of tinsel and cardboard and that glorious metallic paper as intoxicating as all his wines, a crimson richer even than his burgundy and a green better than the greenest Chartreuse. Even then it would only work if the head waiter would sit down on the floor with me and help to cut the things out; and of this one could never be absolutely certain.
[GKC New Witness March 17 and March 24 1917 quoted in The Apostle and the Wild Ducks 32-33]

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