A true friend is forever a friend.
~George MacDonald, from The Marquess of Lossie (1877)
Many aspects of Chesterton’s early life are well documented. Surprisingly, however, the time when he started school is not one of them. William Oddie, Chesterton’s most authoritative biographer, speculates that since he entered St. Paul’s School in Hammersmith in the same class as boys who were one or two years his junior, he must have been about nine years old when his formal schooling commenced at his first school: Colet House, a preparatory school founded in 1881.
~Kevin Belmonte, from Defiant Joy, Chapter 2
In Chapter 2 of Defiant Joy, we explore G.K. Chesterton’s schoolboy days. Like most of us, a number of deep friendships were forged in those early days, many of which lasted throughout Chesterton’s life. His intellect and literary gift was clear from an early age, and his friends were cut from the same bookish cloth.
At St. Paul’s he and eleven other boys formed the Junior Debating Club, or the JDC. As Kevin Belmonte writes,
This gathering of twelve academically gifted young men (all of whom became fast and lifelong friends) was a transformative time in young G. K.’s life. Chesterton’s best friend in the JDC was, of course, Edmund Bentley, later famous as a writer of detective fiction. Among the others Chesterton was close to was Lucian Oldershaw, who won a coveted scholarship to Christ Church, one of Oxford University’s largest colleges, and who would later become Chesterton’s brother-in-law.
Some men are made for friendship. They have a gift for it and greatly desire it. They flourish in the company of others who are like-minded. This is a description of Chesterton at this time of his life. For a description of all that JDC was, the memories of his friend Hubert Sams form one of the best word pictures to have survived. His recollections bring the JDC to life. “Picture,” Sams wrote,
“a dozen healthy, boisterous schoolboys, beginning to leave their boyhood and to bud into young manhood, twelve apostles of Letters, straining at the leash on Friday afternoons and listening for the Head Porter to ring the big bell, which meant Liberty till 9.30 on Monday morning, the joyous release at five o’clock, the brisk walk with a pal or two to the House of our host for the evening, the gathering around a well-laden board, the pleasing consumption of cups of tea and of various sweet and sticky cakes, the chaffing and the joking, the gradual subsidence into a semblance of order, the running facetiae on a too serious paper, the gentle rebuke from our one and only G. K. C., the pleasing feeling that we had a holiday till Monday morning (forgive this repetition) and that . . . there was nothing to mar our happiness; the rush of high spirits following the restraint, if any, imposed by the meeting; the walk home, again with a pal as far as he could go. Picture all this and you will have some idea of the JDC.”
Do you have lifelong friends?
If so, describe your journey with them.
D I G D E E P E R
Kevin Belmonte holds a BA in English from Gordon College, an MA in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and a second master’s degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He has twice been a finalist for the prestigious John Pollock Award for Christian Biography, and in 2003, his biography, “William Wilberforce,” won that award. On several occasions, he has served as a script consultant for the BBC, and also for the PBS documentary, “The Better Hour.” For six years, he was the lead script and historical consultant for the critically-acclaimed film, “Amazing Grace.” He has spoken in a wide array of noteworthy settings, from the Houses of Parliament in London, and gatherings of legislators in Washington, D.C., to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. For several years, his biography of Wilberforce has been required reading for a course taught by David Gergen on leadership and character formation at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Sources & Resources
Sams, Pauline and Old Pauline
Oddie, Chesterton and Romance, Here Oddie confirms Cecil Chesterton’s statement that the formation of the JDC was “the most important event of [Gilbert’s] school career, so far as its influence on his own future [was] concerned.”
The best and most comprehensive list of the members of the JDC appears in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, vol. 10, bk. 2, Collected Poetry (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 119. See also Michael Coren, Gilbert: The Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 33.
Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).