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|William Morris and his School||16|
|The Optimism of Byron||22|
|Pope and the Art of Satire||27|
|Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity||62|
|The Position of Sir Walter Scott||76|
Posted June 19, 2007
This little book is for meditating, not for skimming. It is wise enough for us to pray over, worldly enough to be fun. It is like a Picasso sketch, not a Rembrandt group portrait. *** Here are Chesterton's 12 characters and a few words about each: *** '1' Charlotte Bronte. A humdrum personal life and stories told of ugly externals masking abysses. *** '2' William Morris. He so disliked the 19th Century that he beautified it through his decorative art it by re-creating it as a classical and medieval past. *** '3' Byron. His affected pessimism was only the blackboard on which he wrote with white chalk. *** '4' Pope. Do you disdain his classical antithetical couplets or satirical single lines such as 'Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer?' Do you find such a line facile, superficial? Fine. Then just you try writing more profound verse in fewer than five times as many words! *** '5' Francis of Assisi: probably the happiest, merriest man who ever lived. And the most ascetic. At his core he was a poet. He believed profoundly in other people. *** '6' Rostand. CYRANO DE BERGERAC was initially subtitled 'An Heroic Comedy.' Is such a thing possible? Nowadays we expect our heroes to be tragic or at least serious. But Shakespeare and Sterne wrote serious comedy. So why not Rostand, too? CYRANO is 'a paradise of lovers, in which it is not difficult to imagine that men could talk poetry all day long.' *** '7' King Charles II: 'one of the idlest men of one of the idlest epochs.' He was also a wholesome and systematic sceptic, not a cafeteria one. He died Roman Catholic and a sceptic. 'The wafer might not be God, similarly it might not be a wafer.' *** '8' Robert Louis Stevenson. He wore many disguises. Pessimism was one of them. Romance, or the possibilities of things, to Stevenson, 'was far more important than mere occurrences.' *** '9' Thomas Carlyle: he was great because he believed in his message. He was not great because he did not try all that hard to make other men believe his message. Carlyle was the founder of modern irrationalism. He was a mystic, that is, he embraced common sense. *** '10' Tolstoy. Whitman turned to reality to see how much he could accept, Tolstoy to see how much he could reject. Yet the Count's stories are moral fables. Like Christ in his more extreme utterances, what Tolstoy offers is 'sanity preached to a planet of lunatics.' Like Quakers and Edward Lear, Tolstoy preached the power of passive resistance and persuasion. His negations were like the negations of Puritanism. Both shall pass. *** '11' Savonarola: saved men from smugness, from order, paralysis and luxury. He warned us not to 'get used to happiness.' Savonarola told men to start noticing the simplicities again. His friend Michaelangelo would have happily tossed his masterpieces into the monk's Bonfire of the Vanities, had he thought the light transfiguring the he sky 'was the dawn of a younger and wiser world.' *** '12' The Position of Sir Walter Scott. 'He was a chaotic and unequal writer.' His were 'endless prefaces and colossal introductions.' He is generally judged to write too long. But why shouldn't a pleasant romance be long, be savored? Are we moderns right to 'desire to get quickly through a story?' Must we regard a novel as a pill to be swallowed now to do us good afterwards? Scott tastes 'it like a glass of port' to do him good right now. 'The reader sits late at his banquets.' *** Romance is mystery and mystery is greatness. Romance is not toying with life. Scott's romances arouse the soul by showing certain places or human crises. In selecting evocative situations 'Scott has never been equalled or even approached.' Scott's truest adventures are leisurely, of a man with 'the sword by the side and the wine-cup in the hand.' Sir Wal
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Posted April 7, 2012
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