Top positive review
14 people found this helpful
on January 19, 2004
A 1905 collection of twenty Victorian journalistic essays and articles still worth reading, and not merely on historical or nostalgic grounds? Some pieces are of mainly historical interest, but not most. Neither is it a 'religious title', in fact it is nearly irreligious in places. It merely takes issue with arty types like Mr. Kipling, G.B. Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Whistler. It is also vintage Chesterton, at his usual paradoxical, oblique, witty, funny, slapstick, sardonic, jolly, and generous best.
It is a positive and happy book, but it was accused of Negativism in its day (Kafka said Chesterton was so full of joy that you might almost suppose 'he had found God'--perverse but honest.) Another exasperated opponent, said that if he was so clever and all-knowing he should write down his own personal positive beliefs. So he did. They are still read today, and many who enjoy 'Orthodoxy' (1908) will enjoy this, its progenitor too, which is impossible to summarize, so I have given a thumbnail of each chapter.
Chapter 1. Introductory remarks on the importance of orthodoxy
The examined life - meaninglessness of modern subjective attitudes of not owning your own point of view. Decline of respect for reason and rational argument - political correctness, or 'Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions'. To know a man's worldview is to know him. Pernicious effects of subjectivism in literature and the arts.
2. On the negative spirit
Essential need for positive belief - no society can prosper on negative laws alone. Progress in human rights of liberty, education, free speech, and tolerance are only guaranteed with 'a definite creed and a cast-iron code of morals'.
3. On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and making the world small
Kipling considerable poet but no true patriot, but proto-fascist. [GKC probably first to spot this.] Worships strength and discipline, empire-building, for their own sake. 'He admires England, but he does not love her'.
4. Mr. Bernard Shaw***GOOD***
[GKC being good friend of GBS.] GBS brilliant and witty, but hopeless subjectivist. GBS attacks all pretensions as 'every moral generalization oppressed the individual; the golden rule was there is no golden rule'. But then why should we allow Him to make the One Rule that rules them all? Perpetrates errors of sociologist/anthropologist, still with us today.
5. Mr. H.G. Wells and the giants***GOOD***
Wells' faith in Evolutionism (as opposed to evolution) shown to be false - 'the scientific fallacy...of not beginning with the human soul...but with some such thing as protoplasm'. The demonstrable fact of original sin in the universal existence of selfishness. Wells' Utopia assumes selfishness can be cured by ignoring it, not curing it. 'Heresy of immoral hero-worship' (ie, celebrity).
6. Christmas and the aesthetes
Essential nature of ritual. Attacks 'The religion of Comte, generally known as Positivism, or the worship of humanity'. Comte's attempt to institute a secular religion - ritual the only sensible part of his theory as it expresses the deepest meaning and emotion. 'Take away what is supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.'
7. Omar and the sacred vine***EXCELLENT***
Correct attitude to wine and the good things of life. Not a mere mean between excess and teetotalism but a proper enjoyment of what is good. 'Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable...poetical drinking...is joyous and instinctive'. 'Happiness is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalized...If we are to be truly gay, we must believe that there is some eternal gaiety in the nature of things.'
8. The mildness of the yellow press
Tabloids. No so much sensational as stunted, mendacious, and silly. [So no change there then.]
9. The moods of Mr. George Moore
Satirical. Pride, least attractive of all faults.
10. On sandals and simplicity
Gentle mockery of the vegetarian impulse.
11. Science and the savages***GOOD***
Materialism (philosophical). Sociology/anthropology inadequate methodology. Starts by excluding what they pretend to disprove existence of. Study of primitives less revealing than study of one's own soul. [cf. Pascal Boyer]
12. Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson***EXCELLENT***
Dickinson represents ancient Greeks as 'an ideal of full and satisfied humanity', ie, he is a humanist/New Ager. Replaced by Christianity because rational but sad pagan virtues such as justice and temperance insufficient. Great Christian virtue is humility. Mystical and happy values of faith, hope, and charity are essential, even if seem irrational.
13. Celts and Celtophiles***GOOD***
Race: a non-concept [genetically ahead of his time!]. Nationhood: a definable spiritual concept. Irish a nation, not a race.
14. On certain modern writers and the institution of the family
Defence of the family against Nietzsche & co.
15. On smart novelists and the smart set
Analysis of 'penny dreadfuls' and 'halfpenny novelettes'.
16. On Mr. McCabe and a divine frivolity
Use of humor defended in serious debate (against po-faced atheist).
17. On the wit of Whistler***EXCELLENT***
Errors of relativism in art as in ethics: illustration of the mutable camel. The artist Whistler: 'He was one of those people who always live up to their emotional incomes, who are always taut and tingling with vanity'. Three type of satirist who are also great men (illustrated by Rabelais, Swift, and Pope. Whistler talked too much about his art to be a great artist.
18. The fallacy of the young nation
A nation may be chronologically young and spiritually old, or vice versa. Eg, Ancient Greece and America.
19. Slum novelists and the slums***EXCELLENT***
Patronizing novelists writing of the lower classes, eg Somerset Maugham. Undemocracy in Britain.
20. Concluding remarks on the importance of orthodoxy
'Man can be defined as the animal that makes dogmas.'
'If we want doctrines we go to great artists.'
'The more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see good in everything.'
'We have a general view of existence, whether we like it or not; it alters, or, to speak more accurately, it creates and involves everything we say and do, whether we like it or not.' True.