"1 Was Only A Journalist"
First Chesterton Biography
G. K. Chesterton, A Portrait. By W. R. Titterton. (Ouseley, 5s.) Reviewed by MICHAEL DE LA BEDOYERE During the last weeks of his life Chesterton was describing over the teatable in his Beaconsfield home the one occasion when • he met Lord Birkenhead. The meeting, he told us, was neither of his seeking nor of Birkenhead's. "After all," he added quite seriously, "I was only a journalist who happened to have written some indifferent and ill-mannered verses about him. Why should he have Wanted to see me?"
" I was only a journalist "-that is what he honestly thought of himself. It is fitting then that first of the books about him should tell the story of his real journalism and should be written by a fellowjournalist closely associated with him. It is pleasant too to find in this book part at least of the "indifferent and ill-mannered verses" about Birkenhead. I like to think that they will constitute the noble lord's claim to immortality:
"For your legal cause or civil You fight well and get your fee; For your God or dream or devil You will answer, not to me. Talk about the pews and steeples And the cash that goes therewith! But the souls of Christian peoples...
Chuck it, Smith!"
Written in a Rush
This memoir makes no claim to do more than to record the impressions G. K. C. made on one person and to tell the story of their association. It has been written " in a rush white hot." But it does convey the working struggling journalist in Chesterton and without pretending to do so it does make one feel that here is the explanation of the real Chesterton.
It may appear absurd to think of so brilliant and successful a genius as a working struggling journalist. With his talents any other journalist would have swept the country and become a prophet. Even with the struggle Chesterton did both, and in spite of himself. But he resisted what is here described as his great temptation, the temptation to become a heresiarch and to gather round him a following.
" Anythingites "
" Of course, you see what the temptation was," he is reported as saying, "to become a heresiarch, the head of a new little universal religion. The Anythingites . . . I discovered that my praise of Anything taken alone was a good excuse for the tyrant; the oppressor of the poor; and other damnable Things-as-they-are. .1 adjured.nrny heresy-that is, I recovered my balance-and I lost my following."
If Chesterton then struggled, it was not for himself nor to achieve a personal suc cess. That was his for the asking. But he did struggle for others and he did struggle to bring home to his fellow-men not only the simple Truth but the unpleasant need of living the Truth.
Had he been content to use his mind as a plaything and given free rein to his fancies-and G. K. C.'s fancies, whether in verse or prose, would always have been wider than other men's philosophy,-had he even been content to use his mind for some special purpose, such as literary criticism or self-expression in poetry, drama or novel, he would have reached an obvious pre-eminence and been listened to-even by The Times in an obituary notice.
Honest Journalism But Chesterton was and insisted on remaining a journalist, caught up in the machinery of journalism. And the trouble was that it was honest journalism and journalism in association with friends who shared his convictions, if not his genius. With his brother as long as he lived, and as his successor after his death, Chesterton struggled to maintain the independent expression of Truth and the need to live by Truth, that is, justly and honestly, in the Eye-Witness, the New Witness and G.K.'s Weekly.
The story of this struggle is the theme of the present memoir. There is comparatively little about his philosophy as such, his religion, his literature, himself. At first sight such an account may seem to put his life in a wrong perspective. But Chesterton was a simple man, almost a boy, and it was natural to him to fight with his friends in the way other men 'of lesser genius fight -through the day to day use of seeech and pen, through the running of a periodical that stood for all he wanted.
it was in the daily struggle, of a journalist trying to induce his fellow-men to accept the consequences of Truth in their social and economic life thai he came to see ever more clearly the need to make them see, first of all, the Truth that stared. them in die• face; the Truth about themselves, about the .world in .whiCh they lived and abOut fhe Maker ofthat world.
Man of Action Someone else • will tell the story of Chesterton's mind, but in this first book a clue is provided that should not be neglected: Chesterton-was•a man of action, even though nearly all his life •was given to 'thought and writing. • As a man of action he was an ordinary man, the' ordinary manhe believed himself to be in all respects.
There is something puzzling about his genius. He was one of the greatest Englishmen who ever lived (the author says the greatest since More), yet that greatness did not seem to be sufficiently integrated, sufficiently sustained and matured to be ale, as it were, to account
fully for itself. •
The reason perhaps was that Chesterton's greatness was secondary to the selfconscious purpose of his life, which was to be an ordinary journalist and, above all, an ordinary man fighting in company' and marching in step with others. He was too simple, too unselfish, too humble even to realise that he might he wasting Some of his unique talents.
" I was only a journalist!" What a lesson and an honour for journalists!.
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Untravelled. World. By Frances Shelley Wees. (Eyre & Spottiswoode. 7s. 6d.) Miss Wees used to write thrillers that were also romances. In this, her last book, she has shed the thriller element and concentrates upon romance. Lynette Ware, says the publisher's 'note, is a character which will appeal particularly to women.
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