Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas and festive apologies to all followers of this blog!

I guess the Chesterton Society has been dormant for a while, but be assured it's not dead. Hopefully the recent creation of an Irish Hilaire Belloc Society will be an impetus to a more active 2014.

I haven't been reading a great deal of Chesterton recently. He's had such a massive effect on me that I hardly even have to read him anymore-- I've absorbed his ideas so thoroughly. Nevertheless, I'm sure he will return to the forefront of my mind before long.

Watching this space, Irish Chestertonians! And best wishes of the season!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Poor and the Proletariat

When Chesterton wrote his introductions to the Everyman Edition of Dickens's works, it seemed quite natural to him to credit Dickens with his own highly individual brand of medievalism, and more recently a Marxist writer, Mr. T. A. Jackson, has made spirited efforts to turn Dickens into a blood-thirsty revolutionary. The Marxist claims him as ‘almost’ a Marxist, the Catholic claims him as ‘almost’ a Catholic, and both claim him as a champion of the proletariat (or ‘the poor’, as Chesterton would have put it).

--from "Charles Dickens", an essay by George Orwell

I couldn't help smiling when I read these words today, during my lunch-break. Poor Chesterton, not knowing the scientific term for the poor! But he seems rather less befogged today, when the proletariat has vanished (if it ever really existed) but the poor, as someone once predicted, are still with us.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Worthy Venture

We get a fair amount of Chesterton-related advertisements sent to the email of this blog, and I usually ignore them, but yesterday I received an email which seems like a very worthy and reasonable request for funding. And pledges are paid through a reputable website, so it's not a scam.

I'll let the chap speak for himself:

What would a copy of an audiobook version of G. K. Chesterton's book
The Everlasting Man be worth? What would it be worth to make it
available to every member of the Irish Chesterton Society? Or what
would it be worth to make it freely available to everyone in Ireland,
via the internet?

I'm currently trying to raise funds to make an audiobook version of The
Everlasting Man
. But since the work to produce the audiobook is a
one-off event, I won't insist on using copyright to continue being paid
for the audiobook after I've produced it; I'll release it under a free
culture Creative Commons licence, so that people can freely share it
with each other.

If you, or anyone you know, wishes to contribute financially to this
project, this is the place to do it:
Pledges are denominated in New Zealand dollars, but anyone with internet
access and a major credit card should be able to make a pledge. The
deadline for pledges is late on the 17th of November (Irish time); if
the target of 1000 New Zealand dollars hasn't been reached by then,
pledgers won't pay anything, and the project won't go ahead.

About Me:
My name is Tim Makarios. I've already recorded an audiobook voluntarily
for LibriVox, but I don't think I can afford the energy to continue
recording books voluntarily, which is why I'm trying to raise funds for
this next book. If you want a sample of my reading voice, you can
freely download and listen to my previous book at:

Tim Makarios

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Belloc Society Meeting

Wow, what do I say? It's been forever since I posted here, and it's been a good long time since the last Chesterton Society meeting. I've been very busy posting on my other blog, Irish Papist, but it's a shame I've neglected this one so long. Also, the Irish Chesterton Society is still a going concern, even if not much has been happening with it recently.

This is just to announce that our "sister" society, The Belloc Society of Ireland, is having its inaugural meeting in the Central Catholic Library, 74 Merrion Square, on Saturday, from 1:30 p.m. Please show up and support this worthy venture! Thank you.

CORRECTION! I originally wrote that it was Friday. It is actually Saturday. Deepest apologies.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Most Bizarre Introduction to Chesterton I've Ever Read

Yesterday I came across an anthology of Chesterton's essays called On Lying in Bed and Other Essays, edited by one Alberto Manguel, and published in 2000 by Bayeux Arts publishing in Canada. The selection of essays is rather unobjectionable, though many of the "essays" are not actually essays but extracts taken from Chesterton's longer works. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.) The essays are grouped into themed chapters, and given my own dislike of detective stories I could have wished that one whole chapter was not headed A Defence of Detective Stories, but since it only contains four essays it is not too much of a blight. The choice of themes is rather idiosyncratic but none the worse for that-- the other chapter headings are The Walking Paradox, On Writing Badly (which contains sixteen essays!), Poor Old Shakespeare, A Defence of Nonsense, Monsters and the Middle Ages, the American Ideal, The Defendant and the Worship of the Wealthy.

All that is fair enough-- in fact, pleasingly different to the usual run of Chesterton anthologies. However, the introduction written by the editor, Alberto Manguel, is truly bizarre.

(Perhaps this is not too surprising, considering that one of the other books Mr. Manguel edited-- as the back of the volume proudly proclaims-- is The Gates of Paradise: The Anthology of Erotic Short Fiction!)

Mr. Manguel begins well enough: "Reading Chesterton we are overwhelmed by a remarkable sense of happiness. His prose is the opposite of academic: it is joyful. Words bounce and spark lights off one another as if a clockwork toy had suddenly come to life, clicking and whirring with common sense, that most suprising of marvels..."

So far, so good, and so it continues for a few pages. We are told about Chesterton's sense of wonder and his carelessness about factual accuracy. There is an amusing and interesting quotation from a letter to Frances, one which I had never encountered before, in which Chesterton suggests that household objects should have Scriptural quotations written upon them or around them-- "Even the hairs of your head are all numbered" beside the hairbrushes, for instance. His libertarian dislike of the State, or indeed private philantropists, meddling with the personal lives of the poor is described at some length.

But then, five pages in, the weirdness begins:

"In the ancient dispute between content and form, or sense and sound, Chesterton stood halfway. He only partly followed Lewis Carroll, who had admonished: "Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves." Sense, Chesterton believed, could, if properly sought, exploit the effects of sound and rise unbidden from the clashing of rhetorical cymbals-- from oxymoron and paradox, from hyberole and metonymy. Chesterton was more inclined to agree with Pope, who once compared the followers of mere sound to those who attend church "not for the doctrine, butthe music there." Chesterton loved the music of words, but realized their limited ability to signify; whatever doctrines they might announce must needs be incomplete, haphazard glimmers rather than flashes of truth."

An extensive quotation from Chesterton's monograph on the painter Isaac Watts is produced as evidence. The quotation does indeed support the point Manguel is making, but it seems like a perverse choice of subject, especially when it occupies more than a page of a ten-page introduction to Chesterton's thought. I think I can fairly say that the conflict between "sound and sense" was simply not one of Chesterton's themes. He did indeed defend rhyme and alliteration, he is famous for his use of paradox, and he fairly often wrote about the slippery and misleading nature of language, at least in the way it is often used. (Take, for instance, his objection to the term "making good", a vague and objectless phrase which, he thought, was sneakily used to imply that making money was praiseworthy in itself.) But this is not one of the great Chestertonian topics.

This is only the beginning of Manguel's transgressions, however. We are used to politically correct handwringing over Chesterton's less fashionable views, but this introduction goes further than most:

"But there is a darker side in his writings of which he seems not to have had any inkling at all. It is impossible to read Chesteton thoroughly and not come across clumsily anti-Semitic, antifeminist, and racist remarks that war lightly the same rhetorical devices that make his essays intelligent, moving and brilliant. It is as if a deeper, uglier side of society's collective madness suddenly held sway, forcing the writer to pay a debt to his time and to those in power in his time, overpowering the language of recollection, making his words stilted, superficial, obscene. These are the moments when one senses that his fruitful memory, the epiphany of wonder that he said was at the source of his imagination, comes not uncalled from Chesterton himself, from the individual, but from the man of his age, from the member of the class that spoke derisively of "our friends the Israelites", of "the primitive Negroes", and of "the weaker sex". Then his eclectic politics lose their individuality, paradox becomes contradiction, and the bon mots read as mere conservative slogans. He spoke against Hitler but made ugly anti-Jewish pronouncements: "I am fond of Jews/Jews are fond of money/Never mind whose/I am fond of Jews/Oh, but when they lose/Damn it all, it's funny". He imposed the imperialistic Boer War at a time when even Shaw and Wells were for it, but his anti-imperialism stemmed from a beleif that nothing foreign could be part of England; English minds will not be broadened, he thought, "by the study of Wagga-Wagga and Timbuctoo". He passionately believed in every person's free will but laughed at women's efforts to become free: "Twenty million young women rose to their feet with the cry 'we will not be dictated to' and proceeded to become stenographers". Funny as the phrasing may be, the joke is spoiled by being spoken in an age of brutal sufragette repression, late and voracious imperialism and the Third Reich."

Whew! Where to begin, with this one? I think the easiest way is to begin at the end. Manguel seems to have missed the point of the famous quotation about stenographers. It was not simply an amusing play on words, but a very concise expression of Chesterton's belief that women did not become free, that they became quite the opposite, through exchanging the role of wife and mother for that of a wage-slave. And what is wrong with being "antifeminist", as Manguel puts it? I'm anti-feminist. Probably most women are anti-feminist. It is an entirely different thing to being anti-woman, which Chesterton certainly was not.

The piece of doggerel about Jews is constantly trotted out in discussions of Chesterton's supposed anti-Semitism. But we have to remember that we are hyper-sensitive about this sort of thing after the Holocaust. If it is acceptable to say that Germans are methodical, that Italians are fiery, that Scots are dour, why is it not acceptable to say that Jews are acquisitive? I am not claiming that they are, I am simply making the point that attributing particular characteristics to a people is something that almost everybody does all the time. Far too much is made of Chesterton's supposed anti-Semitism, though there are some uncharitable and ill-advised remarks about the Jews in his work. But he did not hate (or even dislike) the Jewish people and he certainly did not regard himself as their enemy. As Manguel mentions, he condemned Hitler's persecution of them, though he died three years before World War II and the Holocaust.

I don't know where Chesterton referred to the "primitive Negroes". Wrenched from its context, it's impossible to evaluate. But everybody knows that "negro" was simply a descriptive term at this time, and I am not at all sure that Chesterton would have meant "primitive" in a pejorative sense. He was not a racist. In fact, he frequently poked fun at racial theory, which was very fashionable in his time, long before the Nazis came on the scene.

But what I really object to in this passage is the suggestion that Chesterton was paying "a debt to his time" in any of this. None of us are unconditioned by our age but I think few people can have been less conditioned by the times he lived in. He knew what he believed and he knew why he believed it, even when it is unpalatable to Manguel.

A few lines down from this denunciation, the editor makes an even more questionable claim: "Chesterton...will refute himself, time and again, with deadly accuracy. Once, when his adversary at a debate failed to make appearance, Chesterton took both stands and argued brilliantly both for and against the question of the evening. In the same way, his most bigoted remarks [!] are demolished by his own arguments a few pages later. The man who makes fun of a man for being black or of a woman for wanting independence, is the same man who writes: "I can well imagine a man cutting his throat merely because he has stood by and seen a woman stripped and scourged quite late in the history of England and Ireland, or some negro burnt alive as he still is in the United States. But some part of this shocking shame lies in us all."

Perhaps, rather than accusing Chesterton of inconsistency, Manguel should have asked himself whether he had really understood his subject. Though I can well believe Chesterton took two sides of a debate, for the sheer fun of the thing, he was anything but self-refuting. The man who opposed his country's actions in the Boer War and heartily supported them in World War One did so for the same reason in both cases; because he abhorred the theory that might makes right. He believed that Britain was behaving like a bully in the Boer War, but was standing up to a bully in the Great War. The man who supported and then abandoned the Liberal Party never ceased to be a liberal in his own mind; he simply cease to believe in the Liberal Party. The man who converted to Catholicism towards the end of his life had always written as though he was a Catholic. It would be hard to find another writer as consistent, coherent and clear-minded as Chesterton.

I invite my reader to simply savour Manguel's last paragraph, where he truly surpasses himself:

"That events and their causes change according to the telling, mirroring common features or dark oceans of difference; that our understanding of the world may depend on the arrangement of words on a page and on the inflection given to these words; that words, after all, are all we have with which to defend ourselves and that, like our mortal selves, the worth of words lies in their very fallibility and elegant brittleness-- all this Chesterton knew and incessantly recorded. Whether we have the courage to agree with him is, of course, another matter."

This simply staggers me. How could any literate person edit a book of Chesterton's essays and then sum up his work in such weird, utterly irrelevant terms? It would be like an introduction to an anthology of P.G. Wodehouse stories finishing: "That the human spirit can never entirely submit to bureaucracy and engineering, that the passions will ultimately win over logic and caution, that civilization is a thin veneer over man's essential savagery-- this P.G. Wodehouse knew, and never tired of asserting."

Perhaps Manguel has read too much erotic fiction.

I think the literati and the intelligentsia don't really know what to make of Chesterton. They see that he is a genius, and they can't exactly ignore him, but they can't quite believe that his message was really as emphatic and as unabashed as it seems to be. Chesterton could be extremely subtle, of course, but he was never ambiguous, or tortured, or enigmatic for the sake of it-- and these are all characteristics which the modern man of letters can barely do without.

So we find Chesterton receiving bizarre accolades, such as those in Manguel's introduction, or such as the tribute paid to him by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in the dedication to their book Good Omens (which I've never read and never will read), where they described him as "a man who knew what was going on". Considering that Pratchett is a distinguished member of the British Humanist Association, who has recently become an advocate for assisted suicide, and that Gaiman is a writer of "subversive" fairy tales who claims that the existence or non-existence of God "doesn't really matter to me", you have to wonder if they knew what was going on with Chesterton.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chesterton on the Irish Times Letters Page

G.K. Chesterton is, of course, one of the most quotable (and quoted) writers ever to have written in the English language, and one often comes across his more famous aphorisms, but a (presumably Catholic) priest who contributed a letter on the abortion debate to today's Irish Times uses a lesser-known quotation, one I don't recognize myself. (Searching for it on the internet leads me to think that the correspondent might have taken it from Maisie Ward's biography). Here is the letter:

Sir, – The abortion Bill before the Oireachtas is a concoction of the Cabinet, embellished with a false sense of urgency.

The unbending parliamentary process applied to the Bill is causing crises in the political parties and in society; crises that could have been avoided had we a more flexible process.

In 1911 GK Chesterton pointed to the flaw in the old British process; the one the Cabinet here is now enforcing. Chesterton wrote,“Our representatives accept designs and desires almost entirely from the Cabinet class above them; and practically not at all from the constituents below them. I say the people does not wield a Parliament which wields a Cabinet. I say the Cabinet bullies a timid Parliament which bullies a bewildered people . . . If you ask me why we have thus lost democracy, I say from two causes (a) the omnipotence of an unelected body, the Cabinet; (b) the Party system, which turns all politics into a game like the Boat Race.”

The British parliament has wisely made its procedures more flexible since 1911, for instance allowing for a free vote on major issues.

The promotion of abortion by the Government, being concerned with life and death, involving the most fundamental of all human decisions, demands that the Irish people be directly consulted in a referendum. Or at least, that their representatives be given a free vote.

The Cabinet’s refusal to do either makes a mockery of its claim to be reforming the political process. – Yours, etc,


Uam Var Avenue,

Bishopstown, Cork.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Photos from the Sixth Chesterton Meeting

Apologies for the delay in mentioning it on the blog, but the sixth meeting of the G.K. Chesterton Society of Ireland was held in the Central Catholic Library, Merrion Square, Dublin on Saturday, the sixteenth of March.

As you can see from the photos, the turn-out was modest this time, with only seven people present. But the discussion was wide-ranging and deep. In some ways I think this was actually our best meeting so far!

Invisible in the pictures are are photographer Angelo Bottone (seen here at another event), co-founder of the Society!

Apologies for the lack of activity on the blog, I am rather busy with other things at the moment!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Meeting Deferred

Dear friends and fellow Chestertonians

Apologies, but the Chesterton meeting scheduled for the sixteenth of this month has been deferred to the 23rd. The time is still twelve o'clock and the location is still the Central Catholic Library, 74 Merrion Square, Dublin.

I have been reading Ian Ker's biography of the great man, and I plan for this to be a topic of the meeting, so if you have a copy of can borrow a copy you might browse through it. If you don't, or can't, or don't want to, don't worry about it.

As always, admission is free and all you need is to have an interest in G.K. Chesterton.

See you there, hopefully!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Simon Conway Morris on Chesterton

Who the heck is Simon Conway Morris, I hear you ask? Well, he's a biologist, and a highly respected one. But don't hold that against him, because he's also a Christian and a fan of Chesterton. In fact, he opened his 2005 Boyle Lecture (the Boyle lectures deal with the subject of science and religion) with a Chestertonian quotation:

It was G.K. Chesterton who trenchantly reminded us that, if one was going to preach, then it was more sensible to expend one’s energies on addressing the converted rather than the unconverted. It was the former, after all, that were – and even more so are – in constant danger of missing the point and sliding away from the Faith into some vague sort of syncretistic, gnostic, gobbledegook. Chesterton, as ever, was right and should you think this is just another of his tiresome paradoxes may I urge you to re-read him: his prescience concerning our present situation and, worse, where we are heading is astounding. Yet, it might seem a little odd in a lecture devoted to the ancient and ongoing debate between science and religion to invoke at its onset the name of Chesterton. Well, no, I don’t think so. First, as Stanley Jaki has reminded us, it is over-simplistic to regard Chesterton as anti-science2. What Chesterton regarded with the deepest alarm was not science, but its mis-use.

Not only that, but his potted biography for the occasion concludes with the words: "If undisturbed, he can usually be found reading G.K. Chesterton, with a glass of wine nearby." Sounds like my kind of bloke.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sixth Meeting of the GK Chesterton Society of Ireland

The sixth meeting of the GK Chesterton Society of Ireland will take place on the sixteenth of March at twelve o'clock, in our usual location of the Central Catholic Library, 74 Merrion Square, Dublin.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hear Chesterton Talk!

This wonderful Youtube video contains clips from four speeeches, including a lengthy recording of a speech he made in Canada at a luncheon honouring Rudyard Kipling. One interesting aspect of this speech is that you can hear Chesterton laughing at his own jokes.

It seems to me that everybody in the 1930's spoke in exactly the same voice, but doubtless that's the same phenomenon as Westerners thinking that all Chinese people look the same.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Father Brown on TV

I have yet to see the new BBC TV series of the Father Brown mysteries. To be honest, I am not at all a fan of detective stories-- even Chesterton's detective stories. If Sherlock Holmes was the only literary detective in existence, I think the world would be a better place. But that's me being a curmudgeon, I suppose.

I've heard they are very gentle, which is good. We need some gentleness on TV!

Apparently they have been updated to the 1950's, which is rather bizarre. Why the 1950's? Why not go the whole hog and update them to the modern world?

I do, however, think Mark Williams is an excellent choice to play Father Brown.

In any case, I hope to force myself to watch catch an episode or two at some point in the future.

Apologies for the lack of blogging recently. I have been rather focused on my other site, Irish Papist.

Apologies also for the long hiatus since our last meeting. We actually had an exciting speaker lined up for a meeting in January, but this and that intervened and it fell through in the end. Hopefully we will have one soon, possibly in early March.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Chesterton on Fireworks

Fireworks are of the nature of many other human rites; for fire is the essence of nearly all ritual. To burn something, to make a blaze, is one of the most natural outcomes of strong conviction of any sort. Faith exhibits itself in works, and above all in fireworks. To set fire to a thing is perfectly right, especially when we are celebrating some great principle; but do not set fire to the other man; the other man seldom burns well.

From the Illustrated London News, November 25 1905