I didn’t post on Saturday, as the astute among you will have perceived. For some reason it slipped my mind until it was too late.
I reached 51,500 words in Of the North! I estimate about 30,000 to go. It’s all downhill from here. I have to deepen a couple of friendships, set up a couple of romances, make sure my numerous side characters aren’t neglected, write the ending. . . I’m also getting into the part where there’s more politics involved. Why is it that politics from a thousand years ago, many times more deadly than the ones we’re involved in today, get to be so much more fun?
Anyway, this post is going to mostly be Chesterton. I picked up a couple of books of his essays Sunday evening, which, of course, meant I was tearing up my tissue for bookmarks.
“But surely the idea that its leaves are the chief grace of a tree is a vulgar one, on a par with the idea that his hair is the chief grace of a pianist. When winter, that healthy ascetic, carries his gigantic razor over hill and valley, and shaves all the trees like monks, we feel surely that they are all the more like trees if they are shorn, just as so many painters and musicians would be all the more like men if they were less like mops.” (“A Defence of Skeletons”)
From an essay which also found its way into Heretics (the rest of the paragraph is well worth reading, and might just possibly rank among my favourite bits of Chesterton, though it’s too long to quote in full in the middle of a conversation): “With the adequate brain-power we could finish any scientific discovery, and be certain that we are finishing it right. But not with the most gigantic intellect could we finish the simplest or silliest story, and be certain that we were finishing it right. That is because a story has behind it, not merely intellect which is partly mechanical, but will, which is in its essence divine. The narrative writer can send his hero to the gallows if he likes in the last chapter but one. He can do it by the same divine caprice whereby he, the authour, can go to the gallows himself, and to hell afterwards if he chooses. And the same civilization, the chivalric European civilization which asserted freewill in the thirteenth century, produced the thing called ‘fiction’ in the eighteenth. When Thomas Aquinas asserted the spiritual liberty of man, he created all the bad novels in the circulating libraries.” (“On Certain Modern Writers”)
His essay “Woman”, first published in All Things Considered, is a really good one, but I can’t reproduce it here. So are “A Piece of Chalk” and “What I Found in My Pocket”. You can probably find them online somewhere.
The next book has an interesting story. We bought it secondhand, possibly off Amazon, and the dust jacket bears witness to its having an adventurous life. Inside the front cover was, and still is, a bookmark — not an ordinary bookmark, though. Its an advertisement. A very British advertisement. “Witherby: Services to the City” it says, and “A very wide range of Sundry Stationery, Paper, Envelopes, Files, Account Books, Office Furniture”, and things like “Specialist printers to The Insurance industry”. So its former owner, we can induce, was probably British, and caught up random things to mark spots with, and left them in the book. Because all good bookworms know to leave a bookmark, or something that will work for one, in the front of a book for next time.
“Eulogy of Robin Hood” and “The Great Translation” are good ones. (Not that none of the rest are, these just stood out.) The latter is actually him, a Catholic, saying how good the King James version (a very Protestant translation) is. “The Words of Strong Poetry” is another good one.
“The thing I mean by riches is something more subtle even than happiness. These peasants live a hard life; they probably on occasion live a hungry life; they are quite capable in some circumstances of living a gross or ferocious life. But they do, in a very deep sense, live a full life. And that is where the very atmosphere of the book differs from that of Hardy or of many striking and valuable books upon the same theme: books that have, indeed, found grandeur and even beauty in such a primitive existence, but have found only the beauty of bare rocks or the grandeur of the desert.”
“But there is in Hardy’s work, as in all work really belonging to a pagan world, this character: that all the light is shining on things and not through them. It is all the difference between the gaiety of an old pagan painting or mosaic and the burning clarity of a medieval window. And we do sometimes feel, in mere poverty, as in medieval austerity, that things may be bright by being transparent and transparent by being thin.” (Both of these are from “The Countrymen of Mary Webb and Thomas Hardy”.)
“The man who says he would sooner die is best answered by a sudden blow with the poker, for the reply is rightly logical, as well as physically very effective.”
“For this blending of men and women, nations and nations, is truly a return to the chaos and unconsciousness that were before the world was made. There is, of course, another kind of unity of which I do not speak here; unity in the possession of truth and the perception of the need for these varieties. But the varieties themselves; the reflection of man and woman in each other, as in two distinct mirrors; the wonder of man at nature as a strange thing at once above and below him; the quaint and solitary kingdom of childhood; the local affections and the colour of certain landscapes — these actually are the things that make the grace and honour of the earth; these are the things that make life worth living and the whole framework of things well worthy to be sustained. . . . While a few prigs on platforms are talking about ‘oneness’ and absorption in ‘The All’, the folk that dwell in all the valleys of this ancient earth are renewing the varieties forever. With them a woman is loved for being unmanly, and a man loved for being unwomanly. With them the church and the home are both beautiful, because they are both different; with them fields are personal and flags are sacred; they are the virtue of existence, for they are not mankind but men.” (“What is Right with the World”)
Readers, what’s your favourite Chesterton quote? (I’m assuming you have one. . . I wonder, do I have any readers who aren’t already familiar with Chesterton?)