Monday, January 30, 2023

The Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton

Gilbert Keith Chesterton  (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936) was an English writer, philosopher, Christian apologist, literary and art critic.  He has been referred to as the "prince of paradox.”


So begins the Wikipedia entry on the author of yesterday’s quote. A contemporary of George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russel and Clarence Darrow, all great thinkers in their own right, he loved to banter and argue with them. A large man who weighed as much as 290 pounds, he once saw to Shaw, “To look at you, anyone would think that a famine had struck England.” Shaw retorted, “To look at you, anyone would think you had caused it.”


In an article in the Atlantic, James Parker describes him thus:


“In his vastness and mobility, Chesterton continues to elude definition: He was a Catholic convert and an oracular man of letters, a pneumatic cultural presence, an aphorist with the production rate of a pulp novelist. Poetry, criticism, fiction, biography, columns, public debate...Chesterton was a journalist; he was a metaphysician. He was a reactionary; he was a radical. He was a modernist, acutely alive to the rupture in consciousness that produced Eliot's "The Hollow Men"; he was an anti-modernist...a parochial Englishman and a post-Victorian gasbag; he was a mystic wedded to eternity. 


All of these cheerfully contradictory things are true...for the final, resolving fact that he was a genius. Touched once by the live wire of his thought, you don't forget it ... His prose ... [is] supremely entertaining, the stately outlines of an older, heavier rhetoric punctually convulsed by what he once called (in reference to the Book of Job) "earthquake irony". He fulminates wittily; he cracks jokes like thunder. His message, a steady illumination beaming and clanging through every lens and facet of his creativity, was really very straightforward: get on your knees, modern man, and praise God.”


In short, he was my kind of guy! Hard to pigeon-hole, at home with contradiction, wise, witty and caring about the human condition. Truth be told, I haven’t read much of his fiction, though am intrigued to look into his Father Brown detective series. My main acquaintance with him is through various quotes I’ve come across and years back, put together on a page. I briefly entertained the idea of sharing a quote a day and commenting upon it, but quickly discovered that I had no further comments that would expand or shed further light on each one. The delicious imagery and paradoxical truths he captures so brilliant in these short, pithy aphorisms says it all and is not to be improved on, only weakened by any attempt to explain it. 


So read on to the next post and enjoy. Let each one simmer a bit and notice if future occasions have you searching back for the words that say precisely what you need to hear when a particular situation comes your way.


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