Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Sword Adventure(r)

By now you may have received another wonderful issue of Gilbert! with glimpses from GKC's own turf - and so the topic of "swords" may be a bit out of date - no pun intended.

But, since you are a Chestertonian, you will be interested to know that there are several sword books available from Dover, including titles like
* The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry
* The Sword Through the Centuries
* The American Sword 1775-1945
and there is even a colouring book!

But in particular I want to mention The Book of the Sword: With 293 Illustrations by Sir Richard F. Burton. That name may be familiar to careful readers of GKC.

Richard Francis Burton, 1821-1890, was a British explorer and Orientalist who mastered some 40 languages and dialects. Not only did he have adventures, he wrote about them, including places like Mecca and Medina (which he visited in disguise!), Lake Tanganyika, and Salt Lake City. (Some of these look quite interesting, and are reprinted by Dover; do your own exploration by simply using their search box on "Burton".)

One other book by Burton which I seen GKC mention is his The Essential Anatomy of Melancholy, which GKC must have known well enough (and expected his readers to know well enough) to refer to as an example in his ILN columns:

We all know that the principle of abridgment is abroad just now. It is applied to things to which it is approximately applicable, as to very voluminous ancient works from which few modern people ever see any extract at all; things like Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy, " or the "Encomium Moriae" of Erasmus. It is also applied to things to which it is absurdly inapplicable; like the most poetical plays of Shakespeare, which nearly everybody can obtain and almost anybody should enjoy. But at least in most of these cases there is no doubt or mystery about whether the work is abridged or not.
[GKC, ILN Dec 12 1925 CW33:608]
I have had occasion recently, for various dark and nefarious purposes of my own, to read a good deal of what has lately been written about Robert Louis Stevenson. I had no need to read what was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, for I have read it all long ago and many times over; and I have remembered it, which does not seem to be the case with some who depreciate it. For I have found the critics not so much criticising Stevenson as criticising somebody else and putting it down to the discredit of Stevenson. The strangest things are said on the subject. One distinguished critic said that Stevenson was only an inferior imitator of Poe; which is like saying that Dickens is only one mass of plagiarism from Byron, or that "The Wallet of Kai-Lung" is a sort of reprint of Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy." I simply do not know what the statement means.
[GKC ILN Oct 8 1927 CW34:392]
As I have not yet read Burton's book, I too do not know what the statement means. But now I know where to find the book if I want it, and so do you.

PS: One of the sword-items which I don't recall seeing mentioned in the "Sword Issue" is the very interesting short story called "The Sword of Wood". It is to be found (along with many other interesting stories and fragments) in the very important CW14, which is one of the must-have volumes of CW. So visit the ACS web site today and get your own copy! You will be glad you did.


I have learned that Encomium Moriae by Erasmus is available (in English) from Dover under the title In Praise of Folly; however, I was not able to find The Wallet of Kai-Lung in their catalog.


  1. Very interesting, Dr. T.

    Wow, look at the alliterations in that first (1925) ILN paragraph!

    abridgment is abroad
    approximately applicable
    very voluminous
    ever extract
    It is absurdly inapplicable
    poetical plays

    GKC: Genius

  2. I stand corrected. Only two of the above are alliterative.

    GKC: Genius
    NCB: Whatever

  3. Thanks for bringing this up. I am a big Burton fan. Indiana Jones didnt wouldnt have even tried to do some of what Burton did. Although not always the most morally upstanding individual, I do like Burton for showing how a lively intellectual life can be mixed with active pursuits, and he embodies the vanishing trait of self reliance.

  4. Burton teaches us flagrant, cavalier disregard for spell check as well......oops

  5. Richard F. Burton informs much of the theme and content of Paul Chadwick's excellent comic series Concrete, in a similar (though not identical) way as that in which the figure of Chesterton himself can be found in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. Interested parties should check both of them out.

    I honestly couldn't decide which is better, though.

  6. Really enjoying Dr. Thursday's revue of the many fascinating titles to be found at Dover Books, a quality publishing company that deserves all the attention it can get. (I recently descended to the first ring of hell--more popularly known as the Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN--in an attempt to keep my shopaholic sister happy, and found a bookstore that stocked a large selection of Dover titles. Imagine--heaven even in a mall!)

  7. Having googled "Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy" it would appear that it is a different Burton - Robert, not Richard, and living in a different time.


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