GK Chesterton Was One Of The Towering Figures Of British Literature In The Early Twentieth Century A Man Of Massive Size, Massive Personality, And Massive Appetite, Chesterton Famous Personality, Dress, And Personality Gave Rise To An Eponymous Adjective Chestertonian Although He Is Renowned For The Father Brown Detective Series, Chesterton Also Wrote Volumes Of Nonfiction First Published In , A Short History Of England Is Exactly That, Serving Chesterton S Goal Of Publishing A Popular Book Of History Written From The Standpoint Of A Member Of The Public Filled With Chestertonian Wit, The Fast Moving History Includes Such Gemlike Observations As, Henry VIII Was Almost As Unlucky In His Wives As They Were In Their Husband Of The Great Late Victorian Edwardian Trio Of Wits George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, And Chesterton Himself, It Is Chesterton Whose Body Of Work Writing In An Unassuming Manner, Without Great Pretension May Well Persist For Future Generations Far Longer Than Its Charming, Genial Author Ever Imagined Chesterton s brief history is a secondary source, at best, or likely even tertiary Either way, it is farthest away from being a primary source narrative as you can get It relies less on historical dates than it does upon historical theory Which is simultaneously its greatest strength and weakness as a piece of historical narrative.Where his ideas do go well are his theories as to the grand sweeping changes that passed over England from Roman times up until the previous turn of the century in which he was writing One particularly poetic minded idea of his centers on the change from a Roman influenced Britain to a superstitious Middle Age one The soldier of civilization is no longer fighting with Goths but with goblins the land becomes a labyrinth of faerie towns unknown to history and scholars can suggest but cannot explain how a Roman ruler or a Welsh chieftain towers up in the twilight as the awful and unbegotten Arthur The scientific age comes first and the mythological age after it Stunningly evocative Sure But just possibly hyperbole if you were to ask serious minded historians But where Chesterton goes astray into the realm of figurative exuberance, he does manage to nail down some startling truisms In regards to the Norman conqueror William, he posits that it is very much nearer the truth to call William the first of the English than to call Harold the last of them Despite being a native speaker of French, it is worth noting that the institutional changes that Williams initiated have left an indelible mark on England than most would now argue are quintessentially English the census, legal procedures, the slow diminishment of divine right as an older, medieval idea, and the like.Of course, Chesterton revisits paths trodden elsewhere Take for example his focus on the ramifications of the Black Plague it burst like a blast on the land, thinning the population and throwing the work of the world into ruin There was a shortage of labor a difficulty of getting luxuries and the great lords did what one would expect them to do They became lawyers, and upholders of the letter of the law They appealed to a rule already nearly obsolete, to drive the serf back to the direct servitude of the Dark Ages They announced their decision to the people, and the people rose in arms And later, when he reaches the reign of the Tudors concurrent with the Renaissance , Chesterton paints a picture that is certainly true in its essential idea, even if he falls far short on concrete details As the new Tudor house passes through its generation a new rationalist civilization is being made scholars are criticizing authentic texts skeptics are discrediting not only popish saints but pagan philosophers specialists are analyzing and rationalizing traditions And herein lay his shortcoming As A Short History, Chesterton s ideas are short on details But as a brief interpretation of the scope of English history, it is worth reading as a companion to scholarly works. This is called a Short History, but it is of a commentary on England s history and ruminations on the concept of Englishness rather than a pure chronology Chesterton takes a rather romaticized view of the absolute monarchy of olden times and naturally gets increasingly political as his history nears his own time period of World War I It s an intriguing look at England written in an engaging style not lacking in humor.A few interesting quotes so far Magna Charta was not a step towards democracy, but it was a step away from despotism The Henry V of Shakespeare is not indeed the Henry V of history yet he is historic He is not only a saner and genial but a important person, For the tradition of the whole adventure was not that of Henry, but of the populace who turned Henry into Harry There were a thousand Harries in the army at Agincourt, and not one For the figure that Shakespeare framed out of the legends of the great victory is largely the figure that all men saw as the Englishman of the Middle Ages He did not really talk in poetry, like Shakespeare s hero, but he would have liked to The English historical tradition has at least a loose large mindedness which always finally falls into the praise not only of great foreigners but great foes Often along with much injustice it has an illogical generosity and while it will dismiss a great people with mere ignorance, it treats a great personality with hearty hero worship. A short re telling of England s history that you aren t going to find in any textbook Chesterton s unique perspective as a Catholic and as a collectivist are all reflected in his interpretation of everything from the dissolution of the monasteries to the poor laws of the 19th and 20th centuries If there were any modern comparison, you could perhaps imagine Ben Shapiro writing a history of America The basic premise of the book is that England has been robbed by the rich in the form of Protestantism and Parliament All that is good in England was was lost as as the medieval ages passed to the Rennaisance Monasteries kept the poor from being abused or trodden on, guilds preserved a strong work ethic and local character to labor, and Parliament, originally a tool of the common man, ultimately turned against the common man The three centers of power in England are the peasants, Parliament, and the King Whenever the peasants stood up for themselves, the king ultimately betrayed them and turned them over to the conspiring aristoctracy, always seeking wealth and status He also paints the Protestant spirit as an attempt to remove the earthy Religion should be purely an act of the mind, stripping it of all physical elements such as sacraments and symbols Pushing this too far resulted in modern atheism He also tied the Protestant movement to the alliance with the Germans, the rise of the teutonic race, and blamed the English for helping create the nation that ultimately led to Hitler.I am somewhat familiar with English history, but this book was obviously written for someone who is already familiar with the storyline I got lost when characters were introduced with whom I don t remember clearly Wellingtons, Disrealis, Gladstones, Pitts, Burkes, Nelsons all are familiar, but if he didn t give an in detail description of what they did, a lot of his analysis passed over my head More motivation to become familiar with English history.Some quotes Rome as a symbol of fallen man Rome was regarded as Man, mighty, though fallen, because it was the utmost that Man had done It was divinely necessary that the Roman Empire should succeed if only that it might fail Hence the school of Dante implied the paradox that the Roman soldiers killed Christ, not only by right, but even by divine right.Catholicism is catholic, allowing for many variations in faith In the tremendous testament of our religion there are present certain ideals that seem wilder than impieties, which have in later times produced wild sects professing an almost inhuman perfection on certain points as in the Quakers who renounce the right of self defence, or the Communists who refuse any personal possessions Rightly or wrongly, the Christian Church had from the first dealt with these visions as being special spiritual adventures which were to the adventurous She reconciled them with natural human life by calling them specially good, without admitting that the neglect of them was necessarily bad She took the view that it takes all sorts to make a world, even the religious world and used the man who chose to go without arms, family, or property as a sort of exception that proved the rule.The risks of humanism I do not, in my private capacity, believe that a baby gets his best physical food by sucking his thumb nor that a man gets his best moral food by sucking his soul, and denying its dependence on God or other good things I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.The modern man s common sense as bad manners The medi val Englishman was even proud of being polite which is at least no worse than being proud of money and bad manners, which is what many Englishmen in our later centuries have meant by their common sense.Medieval government was true self government Modern local government always comes from above it is at best granted it is often merely imposed The modern English oligarchy, the modern German Empire, are necessarily efficient in making municipalities upon a plan, or rather a pattern The medi vals not only had self government, but their self government was self made They did indeed, as the central powers of the national monarchies grew stronger, seek and procure the stamp of state approval but it was approval of a popular fact already in existence Men banded together in guilds and parishes long before Local Government Acts were dreamed of Like charity, which was worked in the same way, their Home Rule began at home.Divine right of kings limits the ambition of the rich The advantage of divine right, or irremovable legitimacy, is this that there is a limit to the ambitions of the rich Roi ne puis the royal power, whether it was or was not the power of heaven, was in one respect like the power of heaven It was not for sale.What happened when the crown went up for sale The point is that by the removal of Richard, a step above the parliament became possible for the first time The transition was tremendous the crown became an object of ambition That which one could snatch another could snatch from him that which the House of Lancaster held merely by force the House of York could take from it by force The spell of an undethronable thing seated out of reach was broken, and for three unhappy generations adventurers strove and stumbled on a stairway slippery with blood, above which was something new in the medi val imagination an empty throne.The short sightedness of modern man He was even in many ways very modern, which some rather erroneously suppose to be the same as being human Patron saints represent variation without antagonism The conception of a patron saint had carried from the Middle Ages one very unique and as yet unreplaced idea It was the idea of variation without antagonism The Seven Champions of Christendom were multiplied by seventy times seven in the patrons of towns, trades and social types but the very idea that they were all saints excluded the possibility of ultimate rivalry in the fact that they were all patrons The Guild of the Shoemakers and the Guild of the Skinners, carrying the badges of St Crispin and St Bartholomew, might fight each other in the streets but they did not believe that St Crispin and St Bartholomew were fighting each other in the skies Similarly the English would cry in battle on St George and the French on St Denis but they did not seriously believe that St George hated St Denis or even those who cried upon St Denis Joan of Arc, who was on the point of patriotism what many modern people would call very fanatical, was yet upon this point what most modern people would call very enlightened Now, with the religious schism, it cannot be denied, a deeper and inhuman division appeared It was no longer a scrap between the followers of saints who were themselves at peace, but a war between the followers of gods who were themselves at war That the great Spanish ships were named after St Francis or St Philip was already beginning to mean little to the new England soon it was to mean something almost cosmically conflicting, as if they were named after Baal or Thor.The awful aristocracies of Calvinism The next thing to note is that their conception of church government was in a true sense self government and yet, for a particular reason, turned out to be a rather selfish self government It was equal and yet it was exclusive Internally the synod or conventicle tended to be a small republic, but unfortunately to be a very small republic In relation to the street outside the conventicle was not a republic but an aristocracy It was the most awful of all aristocracies, that of the elect for it was not a right of birth but a right before birth, and alone of all nobilities it was not laid level in the dust.A king prevents the rich from oppressing the poor This conviction, as brilliantly expounded by Bolingbroke, had many aspects perhaps the most practical was the point that one of the virtues of a despot is distance It is the little tyrant of the fields that poisons human life The thesis involved the truism that a good king is not only a good thing, but perhaps the best thing But it also involved the paradox that even a bad king is a good king, for his oppression weakens the nobility and relieves the pressure on the populace If he is a tyrant he chiefly tortures the torturers and though Nero s murder of his own mother was hardly perhaps a gain to his soul, it was no great loss to his empire. I have some friends and acquaintances that really think a lot of G.K Chesterton So I thought that I would read a few of his books This was my second book by him after The Man Who Was Thursday I am told that he was the C.S Lewis of his generation and that he had written many profound things So I took up this book with some interest in deepening my understanding of English History with G.K s guiding colossal genius I was disappointed.I m not sure who his audience was, but he assumes that the reader has a thorough knowledge of English history already He makes comparisons and analogies that require a detailed knowledge of the subject and, if you are like me with only a general knowledge of it, you will find it hard to follow He may have been saying something profound about Cromwell or Pitt or King Charles II but it was lost on me because he compared them to someone else or some group I was unfamiliar with I will have to read a Long History of England somewhere first and then re read this book again Also, Chesterton is very unkind to Cromwell, Calvinists, and the Puritans If you are of the Reformed Faith, like me, you might not like what he has to say about them I think this book was written in 1917, and perhaps he was already becoming Roman Catholic by that time He ended up a Roman Catholic somewhere near the end of his life and he seemed to be leaning towards Rome at this time in his writing career He was tough on the Jews too when covering the year 1260 I doubt that I will recommend this book to anyone. I really wish I had time to do this book justice There was definitely a lot I had to look up and a lot that I didn t take the time to and so didn t know the references It is such a slender volume to cover such a length of time for such a famous country imagine just trying to read short histories of all countries What profound group humanity is So I will just tell you the general impression that stood out to me First, let me say that reading books like Iron John by Robert Bly or even Wendell Berry s many novels, I have had the impression that it was industrialization that drastically changed the world, remaking a world of apprentices and craftsman into one of Capital and Labor What this book does is set the whole trend back another 200 300 years He says what is incredible is the change that happens in England, virtually on its own, from serfs to peasantry At the beginning of the Dark Ages the great pagan cosmopolitan society now grown Christian was as much a slave state as old South Carolina By the fourteenth century it was almost as much a state of peasant proprietors as modern France No laws had been passed against slavery no dogmas even had condemned it by definition no war had been waged against it, no new race or ruling caste had repudiated it but it was gone 55 Or as to the transition from master to Master the word employer marks a modern deficiency which makes the modern use of the word master quite inexact A master meant something quite other and greater than a boss It meant a master of the work, where it now means only a master of the workmen 58 What broke all that to pieces was not monarchy, but Parliament Apparently this is obvious, but was new to me Parliament was originally a tool for the King to get money, usually for war And the Parliament was all the nobles And they usually just fought over taxes and such Anyway, I don t have time to write , but Chesterton tells of the Peasants Revolt and how the King had really sympathy for the people and even spoke promises to them but Parliament turned them into false promises in what Chesterton calls the counter revolution of the rich And so we move toward our time when the crown is bought Another section later he says that Parliament may have been anti despotic, but it was not democratic This seems to resonate still Chesterton wrote this in the 30s Hopefully, you have come across this thought before, maybe not But the periods of history and their names fall into that neat pithy remark Winners write history Chesterton is one who does not see Medieval Times as Dark Ages, nor does he believe that the Enlightenment was all that Roger Scruton, an contemporary English philosopher calls it Light Pollution. As much as I love the works of G K Chesterton, I am forced to admit that A Short History Of England is not one of his best works Chesterton just does not do well on lengthy, sustained polemics It is only when he can break his work down into individual essays, such as in Orthodoxy and Heretics that he shines Perhaps this work is best titled Some Thoughts on British Social History and Religion He skips from Richard II to the 18th century Whigs, then zig zags back to the Middle Ages until one s head begins to spin I would have enjoyed this book much if it were presented as a book of loosely connected essays. Chesterton assumes you have an intimate knowledge of English history from the Roman world to WWI and proceeds to write in rather sweeping generalizations about the spirit of each age and transitions between Even though I didn t catch every historical reference, I still enjoyed reading this simply because of Chesterton s beautiful prose, startling insights, and ability to turn a memorable phrase. The least factual based history book I ve ever read Beautifully written and very poetic story of history and perspective. This is not a short history of England These are some very controversial thoughts of Chesterton about this history.I respect Chesterton as a writer and philosopher, but I do not accept most of his political views.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton 1874 1936 was born in London, educated at St Paul s, and went to art school at University College London In 1900, he was asked to contribute a few magazine articles on art criticism, and went on to become one of the most prolific writers of all time He wrote a hundred books, contributions to 200 , hundreds of poems, including the epic Ballad of the White Horse, fi
- 192 pages
- A Short History of England
- G.K. Chesterton
- 07 June 2019 G.K. Chesterton