When I started this blog, my plan was to have a post up every few days at least. That's still my intention. I've been finding it more difficult than I expected, though, not through any lack of topics (since Chesterton is a bottomless well) but for the simpler reason that reading GKC all the time would be too much for even the most ardent fan, and when I'm reading other books, I'm obviously much less likely to be struck by thoughts on Chesterton.
For this reason-- and also because I don't actually labour under the delusion that the world is agog to hear my own personal views, on Chesterton or anything else-- I've hit on an idea to keep the stream flowing at dry periods, and perhaps also to perform a service to Chestertonians. The library I work in has over a million books on its shelves, including a vast English literature section. There may be thousands of 'unharvested' reflections on Chesterton lurking in them, especially in the older and more obscure volumes. This might especially be a fruitful activity as University College Dublin used to be very much Catholic in orientation, being descended from the Catholic University of Ireland that Newman inspired. (I often wonder what Newman would make of some of the books on its shelves now, especially in the trendier and more subversive branches of the humanities.)
I hope the snippets I'll be quoting fall into the category of fair use. But not enough to actually go read up on copyright law.
Starting at a random spot, the first Chesterton allusion I found was an essay entitled G.K. Chesterton in the Collected Essays of Graham Greene (the Bodley Head, 1969).
The six page essay reviews two Chesterton biographies; Gilbert Keith Chesterton by Maisie Ward and The Chestertons by Mrs Cecil Chesterton. The second book is an unsavoury subject, dealt with adequately in most subsequent biographies. Suffice it here to say that Greene's review of the book was highly critical and sceptical.
He writes much more favourably of Maisie Ward's book, but describes it as 'too long, too cumbered with affectionate trivialities'. That's a fair point, although Chesterton enthusiasts will gobble up every little anecdote.
More interesting are Greene's observations on Chesterton himself. He makes the very good point that 'a generation that appreciates Joyce finds for some reason Chesterton's equally fanatical play on words exhausting'. Perhaps Chesterton's sin in this respect is to make puns and allusions that the man on the Clapham omnibus could understand, without resorting to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
On the subject of Chesterton's politics, he says 'To be a politican a man needs to be a psychologist, and Chesterton was no psychologist, as his novels prove. He saw things in absolute terms of good and evil, and his immense charity prevented him from admitting the amount of deception in ordinary life'.
Many readers of Chesterton might agree that he was politically naive-- his political articles have a tendency to veer off from current affairs into other topics-- but why should we accept that it was the fact that he 'saw things in absolute terms of good and evil' that obscured his vision? 'He was too good a man for politics', Greene tells us.
Behind this theory there seems to lie the assumption that goodness and innocence are at a loss to comprehend (or even recognise) evil. The Father Brown stories will tell us what Chesterton thought about that. It is in fact good that understands evil, and evil that cannot understand good. 'The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not'.
I haven't read much Graham Greene-- a couple of novellas-- but my impression is that he, like so many modern writers, has a certain fascination with the psychology of sin and evil. Aside from possibly having an unhealthy influence on society, I think this fascination has produced a great many dull books and films. Evil isn't interesting; evil is just a dead end, and the deeper you explore, the less there is to see. Good and evil are absolute. Living a moral life is anything but simple, but morality itself is straightforward, for all the problem plays and novels that try to make it seem problematic.
Green goes on to give this assessment of Chesterton's legacy: 'Orthodoxy, The Thing and The Everlasting Man are among the great books of the age. Much else, of course, it will be disappointing if time does not preserve out of that weight of work; The Ballad of the White Horse, the satirical poems, such prose fantasies as The Man Who Was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill, the early critical books on Browning and Dickens; but in these three religious books, inspired by a cosmic optimism, the passionately held belief that 'it is good to be here', he contributed what another great religious writer closely akin to him in political ideas, and even in style, saw was most lacking in our age.'
It's impossible to argue with that.