12 AUGUST 1905, Page 16



Mn. CHESTERTON is an uproarious person, and this is as it should be; for Wisdom is justified of all her children. But Mr. Chesterton is an uproarious person on principle; and that is not so well, for him or for us. He would regard, he tells us, "any mind which had not got the habit, in one form or another, of uproarious thinking, as being from the full human point of view a defective mind." The consequence is, that having fixed upon uproariousness as the cachet of his nobility as a man, he goes in for uproar at all costs, even when he has nothing in particular in his mind to shout about. The special type of uproarious product that Mr. Chesterton turns out most easily is the paradox ; every page bristles with the phrase "on the contrary " ; and he would be justified, on modern principles, in making paradoxes for the rest of his natural life, if only there were markets enough to supply. But when there is but one market, a, congestion has to be reckoned with ; and with the present volume before him, the reader cries out for some good-natured contractor to take over the bulk, some of which is not of the first quality, and supply him with a little of the best as he wants it. Failing this useful person, it would have been worth Mr. Chestertou's while to destroy a-portion of the stock himself; and he might make a practice of cutting out the first paragraph of his papers; for the paradox-mill begins to work before there is substance enough of thought to work upon. A well-timed essay, for example, on "The Institution of the Family," might very well be put aside by a self-respecting reader without being read, because of the pointless effort at wit with which it opens :— " Christianity, even enormous as was its revolution, did not alter this ancient and savage sanctity ; it merely reversed it. It did not deny the trinity of father, mother, and child. It merely read it backward, making it run child, mother, father. This it called, not the family, but the Holy Family, for many things are made holy by being turned upside down."

Here there is no inspiration to justify the Sibylline con- tortion. As simple matter of fact, nothing is made holy by being turned upside down. And to speak of another fault that mars not a few pages of this volume, Mr. Chesterton's uproariousness leads him sometimes to irreverence. He is irreverent, as he is uproarious, on theory, holding that "reverence is a thing only possible to infidels." But St. Peter, to take a prominent Christian, was conspicuously reverent ; perhaps that is why Mr. Chesterton calls him "a snob." Anyhow, if Mr. Chesterton wishes his books to be read in respectable houses, he must deny himself the irrever- ence of such .remarks as this on St. Peter, and one absolutely

Heretics. By Gilbert N. Chesterton. London; John Lane. [58. net.]

=quotable on the drunkard's liver. A friend might be asked to read the proof-sheets and cut out all such indecencies, and at the same time correct misspellings like " Dionysius " for "Dionysus," and "Arnold Foster" for "Arnold-Forster," and

phrases like "the statu quo."

For in the things that really matter Mr. Chesterton is on the side of the angels. He is orthodox. He handles his heretics sometimes like Bishop Bonner, with firmness and jocosity ; sometimes like Socrates, turning their pet phrases inside out, and showing their hollowness ; but all are handled paradoxically. Mr. Kipling's conspicuous defect is shown to be a lack of patriotism. Omar Khayyam and his English devotees are convicted of destroying the joy of life by using wine to drown care,—that is, as a medicine. The Neopagans are reminded that their neopaganisin is of Christian origin. The advocates of "the simple life" are shown with some emphasis that what they really want is not "plain living and

high thinking," but the exact opposite :— "A little high living would teach them the force and meaning of the human festivities, of the banquet that has gone on from the beginning of the world. It would teach them the historic fact that the artificial is, if anything, older than the natural. It would teach them that the loving-cup is as old as any hunger. It would teach them that ritualism is older than any religion. And a little plain thinking would teach them how harsh and fanciful are the mass of their own ethics, how very civilised and very complicated must be the brain of the Tolstoyan who really believes it to be evil to love one's country and wicked to strike a blow."

There are many passages in these essays which enforce moral and spiritual and political lessons that the times stand in need of. Among the best are some in praise of the family for being what its modern detractors charge it with being, a place where a man finds himself "in uncongenial surroundings." There is much fine praise of the spirit of wonder, somewhat para- doxically combined with an attack upon Wordsworth, who was the first to praise wonder. There is much praise, also, of the Christian graces, faith, hope, and charity, and the allied virtue of not taking thought. For a specimen of how lucidly Mr. Chesterton can argue and how interestingly he can write when he has got a subject worth arguing and writing about, we will quote a passage from "The Wit of Whistler" on "the artistic temperament"

"The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. It is a disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being. It is healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs. Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art easily, as they breathe easily, or perspire easily. But in artists of less force the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain which is called the artistic temperament. Thus very great artists are able to be ordinary men—men like Shakespeare or Browning. There are many real tragedies of the artistic temperament, tragedies of vanity or violence or fear. But the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is that it cannot produce any art."

And how unanswerable is this retort upon the aesthetic school of art for art's sake :—" The champion of Vert pour Vart is always denouncing Ruskin for his moralizing. If he were really a champion of rad pour Vart, he would always be

insisting on Ruskin for his style." Perhaps the neatest epigram in the book is the following :—" He [Mr. Bernard Shaw] has pleased all the bohemians by saying that women are equal to men; but he has infuriated them by suggesting that men are equal to women." We began this notice by quoting Mr. Chesterton's remark that "many things are made holy by being turned upside down " ; had he said " witty " it

would have been true. When we take up Mr. Chesterton's books we think of the acrobat in M. Anatole France's story who did reverence to the Blessed Virgin by standing on his

head before her altar. In both cases we admire the dexterity, and are grateful for the religion.