Why G.K. Chesterton?
#1
An article by Fr Leo Ward, C.S.C. (1893–1984, R+I+P), who knew Chesterton, originally published in 1975.


Quote:The people who now know G.K. Chester­ton most commonly know that physically he was gigantic and that he was adept at and fond of seeing most of life’s situations as funny; what could be funnier, he asked, than a man starting off in full pursuit of his hat? But, Chesterton remarked, come to think of it, that chase is much like man’s life: comic-tragic, man chasing and not sure he will ever catch up. But for all his funny side and indeed right through that side he was radically serious; he never made fun of anyone. Now at his centenary (1874-1936) is a good time to review the man and his works.
...
Big and fat and jolly—with these cre­dentials he became an international house­hold word, and several of his works were made available in foreign languages such as Spanish and Danish. But he had recom­mendations that meant more than these ob­vious ones, meant more to him and to his fans and devotees, and at least to his hey­day, say from 1900 through 1936. When he came to Notre Dame University in the autumn of 1930 and spent nearly a semester lecturing on English history and Eng­lish literature, people were captured even by minor mannerisms such as how he fondled his watch chain, how small a chair looked with Chesterton on it, or how he would break off a more or less prepared lecture to recite a long poem, or to surrender to a fit of his own laughter. For my part, I could say with his countryman and friend, C.C. Martindale:
Quote:
I remember best the moments when an idea would amuse him somewhere in the recesses of his soul; his face would slow­ly crinkle; his delight would work its way outwards till his whole huge frame shook with laughter.
...
What was it that this non-expert, the fun­ny fat man, had to say? Why did his works become for many a sort of bible? How was it that an artist turned journalist was accepted as the idea man as well as the entertainer of people, a pleasure for many, the bete noire of others? He fought for and against and kept the sparks flying; at St. Paul’s school, he was really formidable in the debating society, and for years after­wards he participated happily in a wrangler’s club, many of whose members held views on faith and man and on Eng­land’s salvation widely different from his own. Man was his central interest and concern, man the conundrum, the sage, the sin­ner, the stupid creature. For some time both while he was at the Slade school and for a few years afterward, he suffered fits of depth pessimism and despondency, skepticism and near-nihilism. This was his dark night of the soul, a time of terror and peril about which his friends and biographers are able to tell us little. He spoke and wrote few words about this peri­od of painful struggle, and perhaps the best way that anyone could hope to unearth the reality and meaning of it is by putting to­gether more or less similar moments of despair attributed by Chesterton to charac­ters in his dramas and novels.

The one mark left on him by this time of agony was his conviction that every man is a sinner, every man’s sin standing in need of exorcism. We cannot think that the later and always jubilant G.K. Chesterton simply bounced out of this horrible state. But it is said that he began to find an inter­est in and through some contemporaries who strongly affirmed life, notably Walt Whitman and R.L. Stevenson, and on the latter, he did a volume largely of apprecia­tion. Whether through them or his own natural drive, he soon and ever afterward was pro-life. But the view went along as if integral to him—he couldn’t shake it­ that there is in man an evil surd presuma­bly provoked more by man than by the devil. The individual person, Chesterton claimed, is a sinner, and the evils of society come not only from corrupt and corrupting institutions in church and state, the econo­my, and school but radically from evil men. Good, yes; good in every man; and man-made for all good—Whitman and Stevenson could scarcely match Chesterton along this line. But said Chesterton, man is a sinner and needs the grace of God. The basic struggle, as he viewed it and felt him­self immersed in it, was not a struggle be­tween species or of man against an un­toward environment, but a strictly human struggle between good and evil. It was up to man and to mankind to see that good prevailed. In this connection, merely one aspect of Chesterton, it is clear that he was a forerunner of Graham Greene. With Chesterton, this struggle remained a kind of perpetual crisis; and man could make the situation harder, and the acme of mak­ing it harder was the imperialistic con­centration of political and economic power.



Read the entire article on The Imaginative Conservative.
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