That Awful Chesterton

Anyone studying his analyses of social nuisances will be struck by his wat of finding the whole source   of the mischief in the wickedness of somebody’s heart and his seeming inability to go further than deliver an eloquent sermon and indignant pronouncement of blame upon some person or persons. This line of thought could have but one issue—G.K.C.’s reception into the Church of Rome was announced in 1922.  .  .

The Everyman Encyclopedia on G. K. Chesterton.

Now you come to think of it, this is after all true. I have myself had some dealing with this awful Chesterton and made some study of his analyses of social nuisances, without getting any little inkling of this ugly side of him. But now the Everyman Encyclical has been issued, I know and believe. Encyclopedias are, of course, the gospels of truth; they are the way, the truth and the life. Encyclopedias should be read on one’s knees for all the wisdom they bring and the illumination wherewith they illumine. If the Everyman Encyclopedia had not told me the truth I should have     grappled error to my soul with hoops of steel for the rest of my days. I have then a heart full of gratitude. I should deprecate any unworthy levity towards them. I do not, therefore, have it in me to praise that recent invitation that the advertisers of the greatest Encyclopedia of all, Mr. Garvin’s noble work with which all Europe rings from side to side, made to children to take up the holy book and read it lying upon their stomachs on the drawing-room carpet. (The invitation was suitably illustrated.) This would be so disrespectful and irreverent to such a monumental repository of truth. The biographical notice of Christ there is true, gospel-true; the dissertation on the origins of man is a dead cert; and the history of the Reformation is absolutely the whole truth. Every entry, Heaven knows, is perfectly true. No, children should be taught to read it in better style, in a manner betokening all due piety. Let them read the work on their knees. Let them take it all de fide.

Rushing out with the truth I gathered from the Everyman I applied it at once (though indeed not quite soundly) to the nearest analysis of a social nuisance by Chesterton I could lay hands on; it was completely realized. The book was a volume on Robert Louis Stevenson. This writer, I suppose was (at one time) very much of a nuisance, and, true enough, the blame of his unusual behavior is, I now find, laid by Chesterton at the door of the unoffending Presbyterians, tracing finally to the wickedness of the heart of good John Knox. George Bernard Shaw still continues to be a social nuisance; the source of the mischief of his existence is, in Chesterton’s analysis lodged (and there’s no denying it now) in the wicked hearts of the good old Puritans who, as you are aware, for two centuries saved society. Even cabbages, I see, are blamed for not showing more ostentatiously the green blood in which they had been slain and brought to be cut up in Shaw’s kitchen for the Shavian lunch. The very title of Heretics would open your eyes, as it now does mine, to the bundle of indignant pronouncements of blame on a number of exemplary and excellent people, which that book really is. And what is the orthodoxy? If you can make anything out of it, as I have now at last done, it is an eloquent (and, of course, choleric)      sermon against those penetrative-minded ladies who write, with no doubt reason and experience of education on their side, pleading for the abolition of telling fairy- tales to children. There is a book called the Crimes of England; this, now, is a downright and most execrable blaming of that backbone of all later ages, the Protestants, who after all, as everyone knows, made modern England and the Empire over which the sun never sets.

Take a few more example. There is Eugenics and other Evils; think quietly on this now. All healthy minded people know the great need in our time for keeping the undesirable type from breeding and multiplying and thereby infecting the desirable type. Who Is to blame for this reasonable and wise measure of social precaution? Why, Indeed the God-fearing, neighbor loving Capitalist, who for two centuries safeguarded the State. In a book called the Superstition of Divorce (in the very worst manner of medieval dogmatism) Chesterton’s seeming inability to go further than anathematize is irrefutably demonstrated. I don’t make a mistake about it now; I go straight to the pitiable victims denounced there. They are, of course, the hotel-keepers who supply the evidence. Take any others from among the file of Chesterton’s books. These would likewise now show beyond a doubt, thanks to the good office of the Everyman, that the ability of Chesterton stops faithfully and consistently at the choleric sermon. There are sermons with a vengeance breathing hellfire and all the rest of medieval threats on the wickedness of the great Captains of Industry, of Scientists and the great experts of Science; on Big Businessmen, on Imperialists, on Parliaments and the Ministers, on Hebrews and Cosmopolitan, on Banks and Trusts and Combines and International Financiers. All these, you now see, boil down to an indignant pronouncement of blame, abuse, hatred and malediction, indeed with bell and book and candle, on multi-millionaires and other financial dictators of the world. But you see the nonsense now in a trice. These supermen are for all Chesterton’s denunciations the bulwarks of the world to all sane-thinking men of our day, except Chesterton; they, you know, carry the modern world on their Atlantean hacks. If the modern world is a happier place it is these benefactors who have made it the happier place it is. Xo, you cannot put the clock back, you cannot now re-establish the Inquisition; you cannot still persecute Gallileo Epur si muove. Lastly, what’s wrong with the world? asks a special book by Chester­ton. His medieval answer is: Women. This line of thought could have but one issue—G.K.C.’s reception into the Church of Rome was announced in 1922. His books since then surely don’t and can’t count. Even his recent travel-book on Rome is, when you cut away the verbiage, a question of Popery, but the blame (as usual there is always blame) is for Mussolini.

Now, it is quite clear that in the modern world this benighted man Chesterton must needs stand alone in his angry and bilious (but, one may suppose, strongly-built) pulpit. He is welcome to be happy to his heart’s content in his medieval slavery and his dogma-bound obscurantism? You let him, now you know him. But you will find the reverse of the story in everybody else in the modern world. Take Shaw. Take the decent Shaw. You will hear Shaw endlessly debating with Chesterton, a futile debate on whether they agree or what. Now, they simply couldn’t. Shaw is not hound by any medieval dogma of blame. Shaw has never written indignant sermons, never found the source of any mischief in the wickedness of anyone’s l«*art. Shaw, on the contrary, has produced plays bespeaking his unqualified, gigantic admiration and applause of everybody. His great preface* are laudatory preludes to explain the wild encomiums of his plays. He shouts like the devil: “Now let us praise famous men.” Indeed, Shaw is one sempiternal paean of praise. The Everyman has not yet reached Shaw, the later volumes being still in progress; but I shall bet my boots that Shaw’s life of perfect praise will be duly noticed with every appreciation and detail when the Everyman reaches him.  He has praised Englishmen to the skies; supported with intense devotion and pride the British Empire; led all the intelligent women of the time to the citadels of Capitalism; pressed the whole of the medical profession, Medical Council and all, to his bosom with unutterable tenderness; worshipped John Bull, begging him to keep his Other Island tight; justified all armed expansions of power and all imperial­istic wars; praised Mrs. Warren’s and (now) her daughter’s profession; written eulogiums on fox-hunt­ing, vivisection, public-houses, tobacconists’ shops, and butchers’ markets; written a play to celebrate that Protestant martyr, St. Joan of Arc, who with her life testified to Good Queen Bess’s Supreme Governorship of the Church; extolled Private Enterprise, Profiteering and Industrial Magnates; lauded the great Universities and the ancient Public Schools; professed his inviolable faith, to the extent of being ready to die for it, in the conventions of the British Middle Classes; penned the most exhilarating tracts on British Sports; cham­pioned the great landowning dukes and earls and the rest of the industrious and sweated nobility; carried the nation on his strong single back, making it the pattern of all nationhood in the modern world. This line of thought could have but one issue—G.B.S.’s reception into the Church of Rome has not yet been announced.

Those who have now received their full illumination will thank the Everyman for the truth. Some may even be so ungracious as to complain it might have been delivered earlier. Chesterton himself. I fancy, living up to his true manner, will blame the wickedness of heart of the Everyman contributor for this reprehensible delay. I do too. But the solacing thought which com­forts the discovery of truth, no matter how late, still remains; that it is better late than never.

With the whole truth about Chesterton now out, the Everyman then plunges heartily into the exposition of the whole truth of the next item : Chestnut.