8/17/14

"Censorship by the press"

"SO again, we have almost up to the last instant trusted the newspapers as organs of public opinion. Just recently some of us have seen (not slowly, but with a start) that they are obviously nothing of the kind. They are, by the nature of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men. We have not any need to rebel against antiquity; we have to rebel against novelty. It is the new rulers, the capitalist or the editor, who really hold up the modern world. There is no fear that a modern king will attempt to override the constitution; it is more likely that he will ignore the constitution and work behind its back; he will take no advantage of his kingly power; it is more likely that he will take advantage of his kingly powerlessness, of the fact that he is free from criticism and publicity. For the king is the most private person of our time. It will not be necessary for any one to fight again against the proposal of a censorship of the press. We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press."

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy, Chap. VII. The Eternal Revolution.

Amazon

8/15/14

"And seven swords were in her heart"

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly—
But she was a queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand,
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart—
But one was in her hand.

~G.K. Chesterton: The Ballad of the White Horse, Bk. VII.

Mater Dolorosa, by Titian.
Oil on marble, 1553-1554. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

8/14/14

Poem: Americanisation

Britannia needs no Boulevards,
No spaces wide and gay:
Her march was through the crooked streets
Along the narrow way.
Nor looks she where, New York's seduction,
The Broadway leadeth to destruction.

Britannia needs no Cafes:
If Coffee needs must be,
Its place should be the Coffee-house
Where Johnson growled for Tea;
But who can hear that human mountain
Growl for an ice-cream soda-fountain?

She needs no Russian Theatre,
Where Father strangles Mother,
In scenes where all the characters
And colours kill each other:
Her boast is freedom had by halves,
And Britons never shall be Slavs.

But if not hers the Dance of Death,
Great Dostoievsky's dance,
And if the things most finely French
Are better done in France—
Might not Americanisation
Be best applied to its own nation?

Ere every shop shall be a store
And every Trade a Trust . . .
Lo, many men in many lands
Know when their cause is just.
There will be quite a large attendance
When we Declare our Independence.

~G.K. Chesterton

Ronald Knox's influence on Chesterton

Ronald Knox contributions as an influencer of Chesterton and the author of the ten commandments for the Detection Club have largely been forgotten. (essay by Benjamin Welton)

Dean of Detective Fiction’s Decalogue: An Appreciation for Monsignor Ronald Knox


Ronald Knox, like his fellow Englishman G.K. Chesterton, was both a Roman Catholic and a detective fiction writer. Originally, it was Chesterton’s writing that lead Knox, a former Anglican priest at Trinity College, Oxford, towards converting to Catholicism. When Knox converted in 1917, Chesterton was still the Anglican son of a somewhat apathetic Unitarian family. Later, after Chesterton became a Catholic in 1922, the stream of influence switched course and Chesterton began to come under the joyful sway of Knox. Knox even delivered the gripping homily for Chesterton’s requiem mass at Westminster Cathedral in 1936.

In most Roman Catholic and conservative circles, Chesterton is justly lionized as one of the twentieth century’s greatest champions of Christian compassion and clear-headed reason. While the rest of the world was falling under the spells of irrational science, unquestioned technological advancement, and deeply atheistic politics, Chesterton was the strongest and brightest light in the forest, and because of that The Imaginative Conservative and other likeminded publications spend much of their time and effort highlighting the eternal truths espoused by the jolly and rotund man from Kensington.


Comparatively, Knox has flown somewhat under the radar. Although the Ronald Knox Society of North America maintains a website dedicated to his legacy and accomplishments, far too few articles or papers have been written about this fascinating Englishman.

Continue reading this essay here.


"Our scientific civilization"

"IF we look at the progress of our scientific civilization we see a gradual increase everywhere of the specialist over the popular function. Once men sang together round a table in chorus; now one man sings alone, for the absurd reason that he can sing better. If scientific civilization goes on (which is most improbable) only one man will laugh, because he can laugh better than the rest."

~G.K. Chesterton: Heretics, Chap. XVI.

8/11/14

Saint Clare

THIS rough outline can only be rounded off here with some description of the Second and Third Orders, though they were founded later and at separate times. The former was an order for women and owed its existence, of course, to the beautiful friendship of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. There is no story about which even the most sympathetic critics of another creed have been more bewildered and misleading. For there is no story that more clearly turns on that simple test which I have taken as crucial throughout this criticism. I mean that what is the matter with these critics is that they will not believe that a heavenly love can be as real as an earthly love. The moment it is treated as real, like an earthly love, their whole riddle is easily resolved. A girl of seventeen, named Clare and belonging to one of the noble families of Assisi, was filled with an enthusiasm for the conventual life; and Francis helped her to escape from her home and to take up the conventual life. If we like to put it so, he helped her to elope into the cloister, defying her parents as he had defied his father. Indeed the scene had many of the elements of a regular romantic elopement; for she escaped through a hole in the wall, fled through a wood and was received at midnight by the light of torches. Even Mrs. Oliphant, in her fine and delicate study of Saint Francis, calls it “an incident which we can hardly record with satisfaction.”

Now about that incident I will here only say this. If it had really been a romantic elopement and the girl had become a bride instead of a nun, practically the whole modern world would have made her a heroine. If the action of the Friar towards Clare had been the action of the Friar towards Juliet, everybody would be sympathising with her exactly as they sympathise with Juliet. It is not conclusive to say that Clare was only seventeen. Juliet was only fourteen. Girls married and boys fought in battles at such early ages in mediaeval times; and a girl of seventeen in the thirteenth century was certainly old enough to know her own mind. There cannot be the shadow of a doubt, for any sane person considering subsequent events, that Saint Clare did know her own mind. But the point for the moment is that modern romanticism entirely encourages such defiance of parents when it is done in the name of romantic love. For it knows that romantic love is a reality, but it does not know that divine love is a reality. There may have been something to be said for the parents of Clare; there may have been something to be said for Peter Bernardone. So there may have been a great deal to be said for the Montagues or the Capulets; but the modern world does not want it said; and does not say it. The fact is that as soon as we assume for a moment as a hypothesis, what Saint Francis and Saint Clare assumed all the time as an absolute, that there is a direct divine relation more glorious than any romance, the story of Saint Clare’s elopement is simply a romance with a happy ending; and Saint Francis is the Saint George or knight-errant who gave it a happy ending. And seeing that some millions of men and women have lived and died treating this relation as a reality, a man is not much of a philosopher if he cannot even treat it as a hypothesis.

For the rest, we may at least assume that no friend of what is called the emancipation of women will regret the revolt of Saint Clare. She did most truly, in the modern jargon, live her own life, the life that she herself wanted to lead, as distinct from the life into which parental commands and conventional arrangements would have forced her. She became the foundress of a great feminine movement which still profoundly affects the world; and her place is with the powerful women of history. It is not clear that she would have been so great or so useful if she had made a runaway match, or even stopped at home and made a mariage de convenance. So much any sensible man may well say considering the matter merely from the outside; and I have no intention of attempting to consider it from the inside. If a man may well doubt whether he is worthy to write a word about Saint Francis, he will certainly want words better than his own to speak of the friendship of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. I have often remarked that the mysteries of this story are best expressed symbolically in certain silent attitudes and actions. And I know no better symbol than that found by the felicity of popular legend, which says that one night the people of Assisi thought the trees and the holy house were on fire, and rushed up to extinguish the conflagration. But they found all quiet within, where Saint Francis broke bread with Saint Clare at one of their rare meetings, and talked of the love of God. It would be hard to find a more imaginative image, for some sort of utterly pure and disembodied passion, than that red halo round the unconscious figures on the hill; a flame feeding on nothing and setting the very air on fire.

~G.K. Chesterton: Saint Francis of Assisi, Chap. VII, The Three Orders.

Poem: The Apology of Bottom the Weaver

Once when an honest weaver slept,
And Puck passed by, a kindly traitor,
And on his shoulders set the head
Of a Shakespearean commentator,

The man had walked proverbial ways,
Fair Science frowned not on his birth,
Nor lost in long and tangled dreams,
The mother-wit of mother-earth.

Elaborate surgeons had not found
The cobweb made the cure too brief,
Nor vegetarians taught the rule
Of eating mustard without beef.

Only in that green night of growth
Came to him, splendid, without scorn,
The lady of the dreams of men;
The rival of all women born.

And he, for all his after weaving,
Drew up from that abysmal dream
Immortal art, that proves by seeming
All things more real than they seem.

The dancing moth was in his shuttle,
The pea's pink blossom in his woof,
Your driving schools, your dying hamlets,
Go through them all and find the proof—

That you, where'er the old crafts linger,
Draw in their webs like nets of gold,
Hang up like banners for a pattern,
The leavings of the looms of old.

And even as this home-made rhyme
Drags but the speech of Shakespeare down,
These home-made patterns but repeat
The traceries of an ancient clown.

And while the modern fashions fade,
And while the ancient standards stream,
No psycho-analyst has knocked
The bottom out of Bottom's dream.

~G.K. Chesterton

Note: Nick Bottom is a character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream who provides comic relief throughout the play, and is famously known for getting his head transformed into that of a donkey by the elusive Puck.