INTERVIEWS WITH THE FAMOUSLY DEPARTED
Gilbert K. Chesterton Speaks
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936) was an English writer. His work was published in a variety of genres. Chesterton has been called the “prince of paradox” for his ability to turn ideas inside out. George Bernard Shaw, a “friendly” enemy of Chesterton’s, said he wa a colossal genius. His work (including Orthodoxy and Everlasting Man) has been compared to other Victorian authors including Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, John Henry Cardinal Newman, and John Ruskin.
WRR: You’ve been called the “Prince of Paradox.” Care to explain?
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” The Thing : Why I Am A Catholic (1929)
WRR: Care to give an example?
A sober man may become a drunkard through being a coward. A brave man may become a coward through being a drunkard. (Charles Dickens (1906);Ch. 8 “The Time of Transition”)
WRR: Any other examples for those un-educated in your writings?
Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously. (Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton : The Illustrated London News, 1905-1907 (1986), p. 71
WRR: The difference between Democrats and Republicans? Liberals and Conservatives?
The poor object to being governed badly, while the rich object to being governed at all. (As quoted in Grace at the Table : Ending Hunger in God’s World (1999) by David M. Beckmann abd Arthur R. Simon, p. 156
WRR: And how would you define the two groups?
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. (Illustrated London News (1924)
WRR: In other words?
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to them being disqualified by the accident of death. (Orthodoxy (1908);Chapter IV : The Ethics of Elfland)
WRR: And how do they see each other?
It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem. (“The Point of a Pin” in The Scandal of Father Brown (1935)
WRR: Did you vote in this year’s election?
I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act. (Illustrated London News (29 April 1922)
WRR: And why exactly did you vote?
Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance (The Speaker; 15 December 1900)
WRR: And, in a two party system, how does one choose?
Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable. (Illustrated London News (23 October 1909)
WRR: The key to picking a good Vice-president?
One can sometimes do good by being the right person in the wrong place.
(The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Sins of Prince Saradine)
WRR: What’s your take on religion?
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people. (Illustrated London News (16 July 1910)
WRR: And the paradoxical view?
Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. (Concluding Remarks)
WRR: So religion – Half full or half empty?
The pessimist is commonly spoken of as the man in revolt. He is not. Firstly, because it requires some cheerfulness to continue in revolt, and secondly, because pessimism appeals to the weaker side of everybody, and the pessimist, therefore, drives as roaring a trade as the publican. The person who is really in revolt is the optimist, who generally lives and dies in a desperate and suicidal effort to persuade all the other people how good they are. It has been proved a hundred times over that if you really wish to enrage people and make them angry, even unto death, the right way to do it is to tell them that they are all the sons of God. The Defendant (1901) “Introduction”
WRR: But don’t we need optimists?
Every one of the great revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelley, have been optimists. They have been indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness. (The Defendant (1901) “Introduction”)
WRR: So what’s the combined optimistic and pessimistic view of religion?
If there were no God, there would be no atheists. (Where All Roads Lead (1922)
WRR: And are you optimistic about pessimists?
I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and that the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself. (Orthodoxy (1908);Chapter V : The Flag of The World)
WRR: Let’s put the religion question into more secular terms?
Happiness is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalized. (Heretics (1905) Chapter VII “Omar and the Sacred Vine”)
WRR: Let’s put the secular question into religious terms?
The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists, as the mother can love the unborn child. (Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens Chapter III “Pickwick Papers” (1911)
WRR: And your conclusions on religion?
Never invoke the gods unless you really want them to appear. It annoys them very much. (As quoted in “The Sleep of Trees” (1980) by Jane Yolen, in Tales of Wonder (1983) by Jane Yolen, p. 33)
Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it. (A Miscellany of Men (1912)
WRR: The problem with businessmen as Gods?
To be clever enough to get all that money, one must be stupid enough to want it. (The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Paradise of Thieves)
WRR: And the plus side?
His head was always most valuable when he had lost it. In such moments he put two and two together and made four million. (The Father Brown Mystery Series (1910 – 1927); The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Queer Feet)
WRR: The danger of the “never compromise” crowd?
Materialists and madmen never have doubts.(Orthodoxy (1908);Chapter II : The Maniac)
WRR: In other words?
Very few reputations are gained by unsullied virtue. (The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Sins of Prince Saradine)
WRR: The problem with experts?
Our chiefs said ‘Done,’ and I did not deem it;
Our seers said ‘Peace,’ and it was not peace;
Earth will grow worse till men redeem it,
And wars more evil, ere all wars cease.
A Song of Defeat (1910)
WRR: And how do those who value compromise see these experts, these never compromisers?
Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick. (The Man Who Was Thursday (1908);Part Two : Imperialism, or The Mistake About Man; Ch. 2 : Wisdom and the Weather)
WRR: And in summary?
I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums. (Orthodoxy (1908);Chapter II : The Maniac
WRR: Let’s get your take on a few literary matters. What topics would you like to explore?
Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. (Alarms and Discursions (1910)
WRR: Do you have a preference. Fiction or nonfiction?
Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction…for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it. (The Club of Queer Trades (1905) Ch. 4 “Speculation of the House Agent”)
WRR: The key to good fiction?
An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.(All Things Considered (1908);”On Running After One’s Hat“)
WRR: Any other keys?
A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. (Heretics (1905); Chapter XV “On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set”:
WRR: And what’s your personal view?
No man ought to write at all, or even to speak at all, unless he thinks that he is in truth and the other man in error. In similar style, I hold that I am dogmatic and right, while Mr. Shaw is dogmatic and wrong. (Concluding Remarks)
WRR: Why the press is dying?
Journalism largely consists in saying ‘Lord Jones Dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive. (The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914) The Purple Wig) Ch I: The Victorian Compromise and Its Enemies (p. 17)
WRR: The problem with today’s op-ed pages?
What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but absence of self-criticism. (“On Bright Old Things — and Other Things” in Sidelights on New London and Newer New York : And Other Essays (1932)
WRR: Let’s expand out and talk about art in general. Can you explain the creative mind?
A man cannot be wise enough to be a great artist without being wise enough to wish to be a philosopher. A man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the energy to wish to pass beyond it. A small artist is content with art; a great artist is content with nothing except everything. (Concluding Remarks)
WRR: And what drives the artist?
Art is the signature of man.
(The Everlasting Man (1925)Part II : On the Man Called Christ)
WRR: And what’s the artist’s muse?
Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.(All Things Considered (1908);””Spiritualism”)
WRR: Reality Television?
Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions. (Illustrated London News (19 April 1930)
WRR: Any more thoughts on reality television?
If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. (The Man Who Was Thursday (1908);Part Four: Education, or The Mistake About The Child – Ch. 14 : Folly and Female Education)
WRR: What do you think of all those biography-stories in the Olympics?
There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person. (Heretics (1905) Chapter III “On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small”)
WRR: And the real purpose of the Olympics?
As enunciated today, ‘progress’ is simply a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative. (Heretics (1905; Chapter II “On the Negative Spirit”)
WRR: The virtues of sleeping late?
Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before.(Tremendous Trifles (1909)
WRR: Let’s get your spin on a few British takes on America? How the UK views America?
One of his hobbies was to wait for the American Shakespeare — a hobby more patient than angling. (The Father Brown Mystery Series (1910 – 1927) ”The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Secret Garden)
WRR: How the Americans view the British?
When some English moralists write about the importance of having character, they appear to mean only the importance of having a dull character. (Charles Dickens (1906); Ch. 10 “The Great Dickens Characters”)
WRR: And how they both view England?
The great and very obvious merit of the English aristocracy is that nobody could possibly take it seriously. (Orthodoxy (1908);Chapter VII : The Eternal Revolution)
WRR: And how they both view America?
Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. (Orthodoxy (1908);Chapter VII : The Eternal Revolution)
WRR: And what’s the common denominator between American and the UK?
A foreigner is a man who laughs at everything except jokes. He is perfectly entitled to laugh at anything, so long as he realises, in a reverent and religious spirit, that he himself is laughable. I was a foreigner in America; and I can truly claim that the sense of my own laughable position never left me. But when the native and the foreigner have finished with seeing the fun of each other in things that are meant to be serious, they both approach the far more delicate and dangerous ground of things that are meant to be funny. The sense of humour is generally very national; perhaps that is why the internationalists are so careful to purge themselves of it. I had occasion during the war to consider the rights and wrongs of certain differences alleged to have arisen between the English and American soldiers at the front. And, rightly or wrongly, I came to the conclusion that they arose from the failure to understand when a foreigner is serious and when he is humorous. And it is in the very nature of the best sort of joke to be the worst sort of insult if it is not taken as a joke. (The Great Minimum; “The Future of Democracy”)
WRR: And finally, any advice approaching the other side of the river?
Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity (Orthodoxy (1908)
WRR: And the paradoxical view of getting old?
A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
(The Everlasting Man (1925); Ch. 6 : The Five Deaths of the Faith
Joe practiced law in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for 14 years and designed large scale databases for AT&T for five years. He currently works for NextLevel Web Strategies, a legal marketing firm based in Princeton, NJ. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, received his J.D. from George Washington Law School and he has a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Drexel University.
Joe’s book, Philadelphia Originals, was released for publication by Schiffer Publishing in 2009. The book shows that the unique styles (how Philadelphians paint, sing, practice law, tell a joke, cook) of Philadelphia’s most notable professions can be traced back to the perfect complement of the spiritual William Penn and the practical Benjamin Franklin.
His second project. Philadelphia Before You Were Born, is a study of the last time Philadelphia newspapers used artists for all their illustrations. It was published in 2011.
Joe’s many other published writings include a humorous look at book clubs for the Bucks County Writer and the literary stages of a baseball season for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also writes the Interviews with the Famously Departed Column for the Wild River Review.
Joe Glantz in this Edition
Dick Perez: Sports Artist for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Phillies
From Washington DC to Salt Lake City: How Nancy Boskoff became Executive Director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council