Friday, November 7, 2014

A Particularly Large and Friendly Elephant

Series on "Wisdom and Innocence: a Life of G.K. Chesterton" by Joseph Pearce

Chapter 6 treats of another move and of the Chestertons' dealings with a family living near their new homestead. What it is really about, however, is G.K. Chesterton's dealings with children and his love for them.

A truly beautiful portrait is presented us in this chapter of profound happiness and content. It tells of a grown man who enjoyed the stories and the jokes he told as much as, if not more than, his young listeners. It tells of this man, having lost himself in the fun and games, needing to lock himself in his room at the last moment to write a column due that evening. It can sound so proud and stuck up to speak of someone else as being simple, but that is exactly the quality of Chesterton which this chapter brought me to admire. Life for him was so beautiful, and as a man he himself was so sincere with how he lived. These two qualities, which children, when they feel trusted, seem to possess and master so effortlessly, meant that he and children were made for each other.

He thrived in their company. He was truly himself with them and they loved him for it. As one author wrote, "he did not, like many grown-ups who are reputedly 'fond of children', exploit the simplicity of childhood for his own amusement. He entered, with tremendous gravity, into the tremendous gravity of the child." One of his young friends later shared this reflection: "It was not, as is sometimes cosily and fallaciously supposed, that he became like a small boy, but that he made small boys feel that they had become men."

This chapter highlights another quality. Chesterton was simple, yet brilliant, and he had an innate knack for putting into words what other people merely feel without the ability to describe. During a difficult period for his wife, and so for him, he wrote to Fr. O'Connor, their close friend. First, he shared why he wrote to him in particular, and not someone else, in this period of trial:
"I would not write this to anyone else, but you combine so unusually in your own single personality the characters of 1. priest, 2. human being, 3. man of the world, 4. man of the other world, 5. man of science, 6. old friend, 7. new friend, not to mention Irishman and picture dealer, that I don't mind suggesting the truth to you."

He then shared a reflection on his marriage:
"One of the mysteries of Marriage (which must be a Sacrament and an extraordinary one too) is that a man evidently useless like me can yet become at certain instants indispensable. And the further oddity (which I invite you to explain on mystical grounds) is that he never feels so small as when he knows that he is necessary."

This chapter is a showcase of what seem to me to be two of the qualities which make Chesterton Chesterton.

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