“There is something not only imaginative but intimately true about the idea of the goblins being below the house and capable of besieging it from the cellars. When the evil things besieging us do appear, they do not appear outside but inside.” ~G.K. Chesterton, 1924
G.K. Chesterton on one of his favorite authors, George MacDonald. This piece was written as an introduction to George MacDonald and His Wife, by Greville M. MacDonald (MacDonald’s son).
Chesterton: “Certain magazines have symposiums (I will call them ‘symposia’ if I am allowed to call the two separate South Kensington collections ‘musea’) in which persons are asked to name ‘Books that have Influenced Me’, on the lines of ‘Hymns that have Helped Me’. It is not a very realistic process as a rule, for our minds are mostly a vast uncatalogued library; and for a man to be photographed with one of the books in his hand generally means at best that he has chosen at random, and at worst that he is posing for effect. But in a certain rather special sense I for one can really testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start; a vision of things which even so real a revolution as a change of religious allegiance has substantially only crowned and confirmed. Of all the stories I have read, including even all the novels of the same novelist, it remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life. It is called The Princess and the Goblin, and is by George MacDonald, the man who is the subject of this book.
Illustration by Arthur Rackham
“An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose. Falling in love has been often regarded as the supreme adventure, the supreme romantic accident. In so much as there is in it something outside ourselves, something of a sort of merry fatalism, this is very true. Love does take us and transfigure and torture us. It does break our hearts with an unbearable beauty, like the unbearable beauty of music. But in so far as we have certainly something to do with the matter; in so far as we are in some sense prepared to fall in love and in some sense jump into it; in so far as we do to some extent choose and to some extent even judge—in all this falling in love is not truly romantic, is not truly adventurous at all. In this degree, the supreme adventure is not falling in love. The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.”
from Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton
“It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?” ~Digory Kirke, from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia
I can’t recommend this lecture series enough! In them, Dr. Peter Kreeft gives an excellent introduction to Western thought that’s both accessible and delightful to listen to. Kreeft is perhaps one of the best popularizers of philosophy today. He helps us see the discipline along the beam, in fact. As an admirer of C.S. Lewis, Kreeft frequently makes use of his metaphor of looking both at and along something (the namesake of this blog). He has written an entire book series in which he creates illuminating dialogues between Socrates and various modern philosophers – from Hume, to Kant, to Freud, and more. The best philosophy, after all, is done in dialogue or along the beam.
“… this is an essential of any poetry and any religion. It must appeal to the origins and deal with the first things, however much or little it may say about them. It must be at home in the homeless void, before the first star was made. The one thing every man knows about the unknowable is that it is the Indispensable.” ~G.K. Chesterton
“The Plan for a New Universe” by G.K. Chesterton from The Uses of Diversity
“THERE is one theory of the Origin of Species which I have never seen suggested. Probably this is because I have never read the numberless and voluminous works in which it has been suggested. For I have read much madder things, and nothing mad is likely to have been missed by the modern mind. But since it shocked the respectability of agnostics to suggest that all creatures had been made different by God, why did nobody suggest that they had been made different by Man? Why not trace the vast variety of animals as we can really trace the vast variety of dogs? The dog is already almost a world in himself, with all the appearance of distinct orders and types. A St. Bernard approaches the size and surpasses the legendary virtues of a lion; while there is a sort of Pekinese which a man might almost tread on as a somewhat unpleasing insect. Yet all this world of evolution has presumably had Man for its god.
“Whitehall in Winter” by Paul Maze, 1920
“If we were to-morrow morning snowed up in the street in which we live, we should step suddenly into a much larger and much wilder world than we have ever known.”
G.K. Chesterton on the challenge of loving one’s neighbor:
from Heretics, 1905: “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique. The men of the clan live together because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their souls, by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colours than in any tartan. But the men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell. A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises. It is, in the most literal sense of the words, a society for the prevention of Christian knowledge.
Detail from “The Valiant Little Tailor” by Arthur Rackham
“At the four corners of a child’s bed stand Perseus and Roland, Sigurd and St. George. If you withdraw the guard of heroes you are not making him rational; you are only leaving him to fight the devils alone.”
from Tremendous Trifles, 1909
G.K. Chesterton: “I find that there really are human beings who think fairy tales bad for children … a lady has written me an earnest letter saying that fairy tales ought not to be taught to children even if they are true. She says that it is cruel to tell children fairy tales, because it frightens them. You might just as well say that it is cruel to give girls sentimental novels because it makes them cry. All this kind of talk is based on that complete forgetting of what a child is like which has been the firm foundation of so many educational schemes. If you keep bogies and goblins away from children they would make them up for themselves. One small child in the dark can invent more hells than Swedenborg. One small child can imagine monsters too big and black to get into any picture, and give them names too unearthly and cacophonous to have occurred in the cries of any lunatic. The child, to begin with, commonly likes horrors, and he continues to indulge in them even when he does not like them. There is just as much difficulty in saying exactly where pure pain begins in his case, as there is in ours when we walk of our own free will into the torture-chamber of a great tragedy. The fear does not come from fairy tales; the fear comes from the universe of the soul.
Detail from Blake’s Christ Appearing to His Disciples After the Resurrection (c. 1795)
“Do not the words of Jesus ring / Like nails knocked into a board / In his father’s workshop?” ~G.K. Chesterton
Here are some early poems by G.K. Chesterton from a notebook from his youth, as recorded in Maisie Ward’s biography. He wrote these before coming to faith in Jesus Christ, years before he’d write his masterpiece, The Everlasting Man.