Arthur Rackham, Peter Pan
“Man, the central pillar of the world must be upright and straight; around him all the trees and beasts and elements and devils may crook and curl like smoke if they choose. All really imaginative literature is only the contrast between the weird curves of Nature and the straightness of the soul.”
(Originally appeared in The Daily News, Oct. 16, 1909, and in Alarms and Discursions, NY: Dodd, Mead. 1911)
A SUNSET of copper and gold had just broken down and gone to pieces in the west, and grey colours were crawling over everything in earth and heaven; also a wind was growing, a wind that laid a cold finger upon flesh and spirit. The bushes at the back of my garden began to whisper like conspirators; and then to wave like wild hands in signal. I was trying to read by the last light that died on the lawn a long poem of the decadent period, a poem about the old gods of Babylon and Egypt, about their blazing and obscene temples, their cruel and colossal faces.
Detail from W. Blake’s “Behemoth and Leviathan”
“Job’s friends attempt to comfort him with philosophical optimism, like the intellectuals of the eighteenth century. Job tries to comfort himself with philosophical pessimism like the intellectuals of the nineteenth century. But God comforts Job with indecipherable mystery, and for the first time Job is comforted.”
“Leviathon and the Hook” by G.K. Chesterton
— The Speaker, September 9, 1905
A review of “The Original Poem of Job” – Translated from the Restored Text by E. T. Dillon
Chesterton: “Because man is a spirit and unfathomable the past is really as startling and incalculable as the future. The dead men are as active and dramatic as the men unborn; we know decisively that the men unborn will be men; and we cannot decisively know anything more about the dead. It is not merely true that Nero may have been misunderstood; he must have been misunderstood, for no man can understand another. Hence to dive into any very ancient human work is to dive into a bottomless sea, and the man who seeks old things will be always finding new things. Centuries hence the world will be still seeking for the secret of Job, which is, indeed, in a sense the secret of everything. It is no disrespect to such able and interesting works as Professor Dillon’s to say that they are only stages in an essentially endless process, the proper appreciation of one of the inexhaustible religious classics. None of them says the last word on Job, for the last word could only be said on the Last Day. For a great poem like Job is in this respect like life itself. The explanations are popular for a month or popular for a century. But they all fall. The unexplained thing is popular for ever. There are weaknesses in the Higher Criticism, as a general phenomenon, which are only gradually unfolding themselves. There are more defects or difficulties than would at first appear in the scientific treatment of Scripture. But after all the greatest defect in the scientific treatment of Scripture is simply that it is scientific. The professor of the Higher Criticism is never tired of declaring that he is detached, that he is disinterested, that he is concerned only with the facts, that he is applying to religious books the unbending methods which are employed by men of science towards the physical order. If what he says of himself is true, he must be totally unfitted to criticize any books whatever.
G.K. Chesterton from his autobiography:
“… I invented a rudimentary and makeshift mystical theory of my own. It was substantially this; that even mere existence, reduced to its most primary limits, was extraordinary enough to be exciting. Anything was magnificent as compared with nothing… At the backs of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder; so that a man sitting in a chair might suddenly understand that he was actually alive, and be happy…
“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.
“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.
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.
“…it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” ~G.K. Chesterton
G.K. Chesterton, 1933: “St. Thomas Aquinas has recently reappeared, in the current culture of the colleges and the salons, in a way that would have been quite startling even ten years ago. And the mood that has concentrated on him is doubtless very different from that which popularised St. Francis quite twenty years ago.