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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsBooks And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Chesterton And Lucas
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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Chesterton And Lucas Post by :Lenny_Eng Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2185

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Chesterton And Lucas

(_7 Oct. '09_)

Two books of essays on the same day from the same firm, "One Day and Another," by E.V. Lucas, and "Tremendous Trifles," by G.K. Chesterton! Messrs. Methuen put the volumes together and advertised them as being "uniform in size and appearance." I do not know why. They are uniform neither in size nor in appearance; but only in price, costing a crown apiece. "Tremendous Trifles" has given me a wholesome shock. Its contents are all reprinted from the _Daily News_. In some ways they are sheer and rank journalism; they are often almost Harmsworthian in their unscrupulous simplifying of the facts of a case, in their crude determination to emphasize one fact at the expense of every other fact. Thus: "No one can understand Paris and its history who does not understand that its fierceness is the balance and justification of its frivolity." So there you are! If you don't accept that you are damned; the Chesterton guillotine has clicked on you. Perhaps I have lived in Paris more years than Mr. Chesterton has lived in it months, but it has not yet happened to me to understand that its fierceness is the balance and justification of its frivolity. Hence I am undone; I no longer exist! Again, of Brussels: "It has none of the things which make good Frenchmen love Paris; it has only the things which make unspeakable Englishmen love it." There are a hundred things in Brussels that I love, and I find Brussels a very agreeable city. Hence I am an unspeakable Englishman. Mr. Chesterton's book is blotched with this particular form of curt arrogance as with a skin complaint. Happily it is only a skin complaint. More serious than a skin complaint is Mr. Chesterton's religious orthodoxy, which crops up at intervals and colours the book. I merely voice the opinion of the intelligent minority (or majority) of Mr. Chesterton's readers when I say that his championship of Christian dogma sticks in my throat. In my opinion, at this time of day it is absolutely impossible for a young man with a first-class intellectual apparatus to accept any form of dogma, and I am therefore forced to the conclusion that Mr. Chesterton has not got a first-class intellectual apparatus. (With an older man, whose central ideas were definitely formed at an earlier epoch, the case might be different.) I will go further and say that it is impossible, in one's private thoughts, to think of the accepter of dogma as an intellectual equal. Not all Mr. Chesterton's immense cleverness and charm will ever erase from the minds of his best readers this impression--caused by his mistimed religious dogmatism--that there is something seriously deficient in the very basis of his mind. And what his cleverness and charm cannot do his arrogance and his effrontery assuredly will not do. And yet I said that this book gave me a wholesome shock. Far from deteriorating, Mr. Chesterton is improving. In spite of the awful tediousness of his mannerism of antithetical epigram, he does occasionally write finer epigrams than ever. His imagination is stronger, his fancy more delicate, and his sense of beauty widened. There are things in this book that really are very excellent indeed; things that, if they die, will die hard. For example, the essay: "In Topsy Turvy Land." It is a book which, in the main, strongly makes for righteousness. Its minor defects are scandalous, in a literary sense; its central defect passes the comprehension; the book is journalism, it is anything you like. But I can tell you that it is literature, after all.

* * * * *

If you desire a book entirely free from the exasperating faults of Mr. Chesterton's you will turn to Mr. Lucas's. But Mr. Lucas, too, is a highly mysterious man. On the surface he might be mistaken for a mere cricket enthusiast. Dig down, and you will come, with not too much difficulty, to the simple man of letters. Dig further, and, with somewhat more difficulty, you will come to an agreeably ironic critic of human foibles. Try to dig still further, and you will probably encounter rock. Only here and there in his two novels does Mr. Lucas allow us to glimpse a certain powerful and sardonic harshness in him, indicative of a mind that has seen the world and irrevocably judged it in most of its manifestations. I could believe that Mr. Lucas is an ardent politician, who, however, would not deign to mention his passionately held views save with a pencil on a ballot-paper--if then! It could not have been without intention that he put first in this new book an essay describing the manufacture of a professional criminal. Most of the other essays are exceedingly light in texture. They leave no loophole for criticism, for their accomplishment is always at least as high as their ambition. They are serenely well done. Immanent in the book is the calm assurance of a man perfectly aware that it will be a passing hard task to get change out of _him_! And even when some one does get change out of him, honour is always saved. In describing a certain over of his own bowling, Mr. Lucas says: "I was conscious of a twinge as I saw his swift glance round the field. He then hit my first ball clean out of it; from my second he made two; from my third another two; the fourth and fifth wanted playing; and the sixth he hit over my head among some distant haymakers." You see, the fourth and fifth wanted playing.

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