it is sometimes difficult for a man to shake off the suggestion that each road is a bridge over the other roads, as if he were really rising by continual stages higher and higher through the air. He fancies he is on some open scaffolding of streets, scaling the sky. He almost imagines that, if he lifted a paving-stone, he might look down through the opening, and see the moon. This weird sense of the city as a sort of starry ladder has so often come upon me when climbing the Edinburgh ways in cloudy weather that I have been tempted to wonder whether any of the old men of the town were thinking of the experience when they chose the strange and splendid motto of the Scotch capital. Never, certainly, did a great city have a heraldic motto which was so atmospherically accurate. It might have been invented by a poet - I might almost say by a landscape painter. The motto of Edinburgh, as you may still see it, I think, carved over the old Castle gate is, "Sic Itur ad Astra": "This Way to the Stars."If you know Latin, you may recognize that this is from the ninth book of Virgil's Aeneid... it is a very powerful and tantalizing phrase. GKC uses it in a very important essay (how fast I forget them after I've read them!) which I think you ought to read for yourself. Here's the critical bit:
[GKC "The Way to the Stars" in Lunacy and Letters 76]
The materialism which idolatrised scientific machinery was followed by a natural, and on the whole healthy, reaction which cursed and condemned it. But, indeed, the mere denunciation of engineering or chemistry was as materialistic as the mere adoration of them. What matters is the motive and not the machine. The attempt to make science a sort of substitute for religion was simply ludicrous. A man said: "I can see no sense in anything; I hate the human race; I wish I was dead; but I am glad they have discovered the telephone: now I can ring up in the middle of the night and say something I don't value to somebody I don't like." This man was unintelligent. But it was even more unintelligent to blame the telephone because we had nothing to say in it that was worth saying. Similarly the hopes of physical research were silly hopes if they really meant that such a matter as aviation could make life worth living. Being stupid and wicked above the clouds is the same as being stupid and wicked under them: and there are clouds as well as stars in the very brain of man wherever he may go. If it is not the habit that makes the monk, still less is it the wings that make the angel. Yet the same innocent joy that is felt by a child in seeing "the wheels go round" may well be felt by an angel in seeing the worlds go round.I said in my title that there would be something more, and here it is.
It has been touchingly reported that the little brother of the lost airman talks perpetually of the great aerial feat; and no one who knows anything of children will even need to be told so. It is this clear and stainless pleasure in science, as in a toy as big as the world, that we need rather than any displeasure at it. We can all remember it in the time when we cheered a passing railway-train or first stared at crystals through a microscope. We ought still to be able to cheer the railway-train. We still know that the diamond is beautiful, if the diamond-broker isn't. It was said that the Devil need not have all the good tunes: nor need he even have all the bad smells. Chemistry was as holy as hagiology when we were in the nursery. And in this sense, very different from the current one, there is such a thing as Christian Science. But the disinfectant of science is con-science, or conscience. When the moral air has been purified, as it has been by this all-annihilating storm, we recover the natural gladness in the magic made by man. And in no symbol is this more apparent than in the great symbol of the battle in the air, of which this one life and death will be the central and the fruitful legend.
We have done right and the heavens have not fallen: rather, we have re-inherited the heavens of our fathers. We have passed the midnight of materialism when the heavens were only vacant. The sky is what it was of old: a window of all the world and the entrance to immortality. Sic itur ad astra.
[GKC ILN June 26 1915 CW30:234-5]
Since Nancy herself voted for "A" in my poll, I take that as approval for my getting into some hot water - that is, for our study of What's Wrong With the World (hereinafter WWWTW) to commence on the coming Thursdays, as God may permit me to proceed.
So! If you do not have a copy of WWWTW, you might wish to obtain CW4 from the ACS, which also contains the important books called Eugenics and Other Evils and The Superstition of Divorce and the pamphlets called Divorce Versus Democracy and Social Reform Versus Birth Control. As I proceed I shall use the pagination in CW4, but I hope to cover its roughly 44 "chapters" by doing one each week, so it ought to be easy for you to keep up regardless of what edition you have. I am well aware that there are some very controversial parts to the text - some of them I may take up, others I may leave for you to discuss, in the comment-box, or in your own bloggs. But I will try to give at least a little bit larger of the view of this book, trying (as we did in our study of Orthodoxy) to see more of it as Chesterton did.
One final point I'd like to make. If you are so inclined to offer your own comments and produce your own discussions, on WWWTW or on any other Chestertonian matter, please remember that you are free to set up your own blogg... it was GKC himself who seemed to presage this marvel when he wrote:
This paper exists to insist on the rights of man; on possessions that are of much more political importance than the principle of one man one vote. I am in favour of one man one house, one man one field; nay I have even advanced the paradox of one man one wife. But I am almost tempted to add the more ideal fancy of one man one magazine ... to say that every citizen ought to have a weekly paper of this sort to splash about in ... this kind of scrap book to keep him quiet.After all:
[GKC in GK's Weekly April 4, 1925, quoted in Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 497]
I believe in getting into hot water. I think it keeps you clean.
[GKC ILN March 10 1906 CW27:142]