There are few writers in the first half of the 20th century that cast a larger shadow than G.K. Chesterton. I mean this both figuratively and literally. Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a giant of a man, standing six feet, four inches tall, and weighing around 300 pounds. Although he is probably best remembered by the secular world for his Fr. Brown mystery stories, this man was a journalist with an impressive output. He wrote hundreds of books and poems, several novels and plays, and more than 4,000 essays on subjects ranging from Queen Victoria to cheese. Despite being a literary and literal giant, most people have never even heard of this Catholic, cigar-smoking, beer-drinking journalist. If you are among those unfamiliar with this author, please allow me to introduce you to a little of Chesterton’s genius.
G.K. Chesterton was a great defender of the common man and of common sense. “The first effect of not believing in God,” he said, “is that you lose your common sense.” His arguments, while always well-reasoned, never contain the cold, stern, reason of the skeptic. His logic is warm, joyous and human; a welcome breath of common sense that is still extremely relevant in our current age. Chesterton’s steady reason is always accompanied by his clever wit. “We have had no good comic operas of late, because the real world has been more comic than any possible opera,” he once wrote. When someone once asked him what his thoughts on hell were, he amiably replied that he regarded it as a thing to be avoided.
Witty and humorous he may have been, but he certainly didn’t lack courage. Chesterton proclaimed the truth to a world that was oftentimes none-too-eager to hear it, and he did it in his customarily good-natured way. “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions,” he reminds us. “The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues,” he said blithely, “has today all the exhilaration of a vice.” Chesterton never shied away from a good argument. He defended his Catholic Faith with a vigor that can turn some readers away mystified. He wrote, “The Catholic Church is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”
Chesterton defended tradition against those who championed blind progress. He argued, “If the medieval world did not establish peace, I am not sure the modern world has been a roaring success at it.”
By far the most appealing thing about Chesterton, besides his beautiful and refined writing style, is the fact that he lived life to the full, and did so with an endearing grace. He carried a sword-cane and a revolver (which he purchased on the day of his wedding to defend his bride), wore a rumpled hat and cape, and smoked cigars. He ate well and, more importantly, laughed well, especially at himself. He was notoriously absentminded, missing many trains or catching the wrong ones. He was a humble, joyful man, larger than life, yet too real to be fictitious. As he said, “Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves.”
I encourage you to find some bedside reading from this jolly giant’s host of writings. His humor, wit, and crystal-clear common sense is sure to be both a balm and a tool as you make your way through this life and on to the next.
More information on Chesterton, his life and works, can be found at www.chesterton.org.
Aidan Jones is a young Catholic writer and filmmaker currently residing in the north woods of Wisconsin. He is a parishioner of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior.