From the Pints with Jack blog post:
It has been my desire for a while to introduce the listeners to other members of the Inklings, as well as authors who greatly influenced Lewis. Today we look at G.K. Chesterton and our special guest who will be introducing us to this great man is renowned Chesterton scholar and champion, Dale Ahlquist.
- I explained my desire to introduce the listeners to the rest of the Inklings, as well as those other writings who made a profound influence on C.S. Lewis.
- When our reading group was working through Surprised By Joy, Chesterton’s name appeared eleven times. Lewis read a collection of Chesterton’s essays and, although he was still an atheist, he immediately fell in love with Chesterton’s writings.
It was here that I first read a volume of Chesterton’s essays. I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for; nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me… Liking an author may be as involuntary and improbable as falling in love. I was by now a sufficiently experienced reader to distinguish liking from agreement. I did not need to accept what Chesterton said in order to enjoy it. His humour was of the kind which I like best… Moreover, strange as it may seem, I liked him for his goodness…
In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading…
Then I read Chesterton’s Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense. Somehow I contrived not to be too badly shaken. You will remember that I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive “apart from his Christianity”.
C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy
- I introduced Dale Ahlquist. He is a husband and father of six and one of the most respected Chesterton scholars in the world. He’s President of the American Chesterton Society and was the creator of the popular EWTN series The Apostle of Common Sense. He has also written and edited a number of books on Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, Common Sense 101, and more recently Knight of the Holy Ghost. He is also the co-founder of a classical high school in Minneapolis, The Chesterton Academy, and is the chairman of the Chesterton Schools Network.
Not only that, in 2013, he came and talked to the Chesterton class at Notre Dame on “Wonder and Gratitude”, and one of the students in the class that day was our very own Matt Bush.
- The drink-of-the-week was a Newcastle Brown Ale, a drink I hoped Chesterton would appreciate. I asked Dale about Chesterton’s favourite beverages. He said that Chesterton preferred red wine, particularly Claret/Bordeaux, which he would drink out of a tumbler. He said that he also enjoyed beer when he was very thirsty on a hot day. He didn’t like cocktails at all, saying “I have no objection to vodka expect that I once tasted it”.
The quote-of-the-week was from Chesterton himself:
Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable…. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world
Heretics, G.K. Chesterton
- Dale spoke about how C.S. Lewis was his path into discovering Chesterton. He was reading Mere Christianity during College and working for his brother-in-law, the Christian recording artist, Larry Norman. Larry said that, if he loved Lewis, he’d love Chesterton and even uttered the blasphemy that, if you read Chesterton, you don’t need to read Lewis!
Later, Dale would encounter Lewis’ recommendation of Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man in one of the letters published in A Severe Mercy. He eventually read it on his honeymoon, prompting his wife to comment that Dale has been married to Chesterton as long as he has been married to her!
- Dale shared his favourite Chesterton aphorisms:
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.
Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction; for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it.
Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.
- We heard a short biography of Chesterton. He was not an Inkling and, being twenty-five years older than Jack, never even met him. He was a journalist, a prolific writer and, like Lewis, covered a large number of genres.
- He was raised in a non-creedal faith, similar to Unitarian. He began exploring Spiritualism, but had a traumatic experience with something very evil and was near to the point of suicide, but saved by clinging to the basic idea that existence is better than non-existence. This, and the criticisms of the Faith, eventually lead him to Christianity. This story is found in his book Orthodoxy.
- I mentioned that I gave my girlfriend a copy of The Woman Who Was Chestertonand she loved it. Dale spoke about how he fell in love with her and how devoted they were to each other and how she looked after him. He even once sent her a telegram which read:
Am in Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?
Telegram from G.K. Chesterton to his wife, Frances
They couldn’t have children, but they filled their lives with other people’s children instead.
- Chesterton wrote about a hundred books. Among these, Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man were probably two of his most philosophical and apologetic works. He wrote biographies of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi. He wrote books on Literary Criticism, particular his work on Charles Dickens. Since he travelled so much, he wrote several travel books, as well as books on economics such as The Outline of Sanity. Several novels are in his corpus, such as The Man Who Was Thursday and the Father Brown mysteries.
- I asked about Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, since it had such an effect on Lewis.
- Given his massive literary output and his popularity at the time, how is it that Chesterton is unknown to so many? Dale suggested that Wold War II broke the century in half. Also, Chesterton’s style and massive range of writings ironically had something to do with it. He was also kept in the public consciousness because he had regular newspaper columns.
- Many people struggle with reading Chesterton, so what is the best way to go about it? Dale shamelessly promoted his own books, The Apostle of Common Sense and Common Sense 101. He also recommended the essay collection In Defense of Sanity. The Father Brown stories were my own way into Chesterton. At some point, though, you have to read Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man.
- Our San Diego C.S. Lewis reading book will be taking a brief break from Lewis and will be talking Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, so I asked for some tips in reading it. I was reassured that we may struggle, but that’s okay. Dale recommended emailing the Chesterton Society to ask for a study guide to help track Chesterton’s arguments.
- Marie had asked me to find out which biography would give the reader the best sense of the kind of man Chesterton was. Dale recommended his own book, Knight of the Holy Ghost, since that was the central purpose of the book. He really likes the biography Wisdom and Innocence, written by Joseph Pearce, a former guest on this podcast. He said that the authoritative biography is Gilbert Keith Chesterton by Maisie Ward, but he said that Chesterton’s personality come through more clearly in her sequel, Return to Chesterton, as it contains many more anecdotes about the man.
- A listener, Vincent, asked about the cause for Chesterton’s canonisation. Recently in the News, Bishop Peter Doyle of the Diocese of Northampton, where Chesterton lived and died announced that after a lengthy investigation, that he has decided not to open the cause of canonisation. He offered three reasons. Firstly, he said that there was no local devotion to Chesterton (in Catholic terminology, this is called a “cult”, but don’t worry, it’s not the scary kind). Secondly, he said that he couldn’t “to tease out a pattern of personal spirituality”. Lastly, he said that there was “the issue of anti-Semitism” in Chesterton’s writings. I asked Dale to respond to this and he explained the position of the Chesterton Society.
- I had heard that Chesterton inspired Michael Collins and Mohandas Gandhi in their respective missions to gain independence for their respective countries of Ireland and India. Dale confirmed this. Collins read The Napoleon of Notting Hilland The Man Who Was Thursday. Gandhi was inspired in his quest by an essay in The Illustrated London News.
- I asked about the work of the The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Dale spoke about their publication, Gilbert, their work in education, as well as the cause for Chesterton’s canonisation.
- We’re going to be giving away a copy of Knight of the Holy Ghost, you just have to post a Chesterton quotation on Social Media and tag @pintswithjack.