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Gilbert Keith Chesterton
a selection from Chapter 10 - Who is G.K.C.? THE BOER WAR--and the whole country enthusiastically behind it. The Liberal Party as a whole went with the Conservatives. The leading Fabians--Bernard Shaw, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb, Hubert Bland, Cecil Chesterton and the "semi-detached Fabian" H. G. Wells--were likewise for the war. Only a tiny minority...
a selection from Chapter 10 - Who is G.K.C.? THE BOER WAR--and the whole country enthusiastically behind it. The Liberal Party as a whole went with the Conservatives. The leading Fabians--Bernard Shaw, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb, Hubert Bland, Cecil Chesterton and the "semi-detached Fabian" H. G. Wells--were likewise for the war. Only a tiny minority remained in opposition, most of whom were pacifists or cranks of one kind or another. To the sane minority of this minority Gilbert found himself belonging. It is something of a tribute to the national feeling at such a moment of tension that (as an American has noted) "Chesterton was the one British writer, utterly unknown before, who built up a great reputation, and it was gained, not through nationalistic support, but through determined and persistent opposition to British policy."* [* Chesterton, by Cyril Clemens, p. 20.] In his Daily News column a correspondent later asked him to define his position. Chesterton replied, "The unreasonable patriot is one who sees the faults of his fatherland with an eye which is clearer and more merciless than any eye of hatred, the eye of an irrational and irrevocable love." His attitude sprang, he claimed, not from defect but from excess of patriotism. It is hard to imagine anything that would clarify better the ideas of a strong mind than finding itself in opposition. This opposition began at home, in argument with Cecil. Later the two brothers would agree about most main issues, but now Cecil was a Tory democrat, Gilbert a pro-Boer, and what was known as a little Englander. The tie between the two brothers was very close. As the "Innocent Child" developed into the combative companion, there is no doubt that he proportionately affected Gilbert. All their friends talk of the endless amicable arguments through which both grew. Conrad Noel remembers parties at Warwick Gardens during the Boer War at which the two brothers "would walk up and down like the two pistons of an engine" to the disorganisation of the company and the dismay of their parents. It was at this time that Frances, engaged to a deeply devoted Gilbert, found even that devotion insufficient to pry him and Cecil apart when an argument had got well under way. "I must go home, Gilbert. I shall miss my train." Usually he would have sprung to accompany her, but now she must miss many trains before the brothers could be separated. Frances told me that when they were at the seaside the landlady would sometimes clear away breakfast, leaving the brothers arguing, come to set lunch and later set dinner while still they argued. They had come to the seaside but they never saw the sea. Once Frances was staying with them at a house they had taken by the sea. Her room was next to Cecil's and she could not sleep for the noise of the discussion that went on hour after hour. About one in the morning she rapped on the wall and said, "O Cecil, do send Gilbert to bed." A brief silence followed, and then the remark, in a rather abashed voice, "There's no one here." Cecil had been arguing with himself. Gilbert too argued with himself for the stand he was taking was a hard one. Mr. Belloc has told me that he felt Gilbert suffered at any word against England, that his patriotism was passionate. And now he had himself to say that he believed his country to be in the wrong. To admit it to himself, to state it to others.
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