When [Chesterton’s] religion was at its lowest point, in the difficult Art School days, he never lost it entirely. “I hung on to religion,” [he later said,] “by one thin thread of thanks.”
Maisie Ward (1943)
Much as the JDC meant to Chesterton—and it meant all the world to him at this time of his life—he knew that his involvement with the group was bound to change. For by autumn 1892, he had left St. Paul’s School to begin taking art classes at the Slade School of Art and, a bit later in 1893, courses in Latin and English literature at University College, London. The others in JDC could go on together for a while yet, as they, being younger than Chesterton, would not go up to university until the autumn of 1894.
Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 3
In Chapter 3 of Defiant Joy, G.K. Chesterton’s life takes a dark turn. His experience at the Slade School was bleak, due primarily to his isolation which both removed his support system and lead him to poor coping mechanisms. It’s easy for many of us to relate this to our own college days when we were first expelled from the nest of our youth. How many bad choices did we make, and what would we do differently if we could go back?
As Kevin Belmonte writes,
One would have thought this would be an exciting time for Chesterton. He’d been drawing all his life and would now be able to immerse himself fully in the visual arts. He could develop his gift.
Yet it was at the Slade School that he experienced a period of desolation unlike any he would ever know. It was his dark night of the soul.
Two developments seemed to have triggered this. In choosing to go to the Slade School, Chesterton was at an unwelcome distance from virtually all of his friends in the JDC. He and Edmund Bentley maintained a steady correspondence, but this could not begin to compensate for all that the JDC had meant when they were all together at St. Paul’s. For a time, he still continued to send contributions to the Debater, but the last of these efforts was a poem written in late 1892 or early 1893.
Second, Chesterton was away from his family more than he ever had been before. Whatever their eccentricities were, it was a loving home. His mother indulged him, while his father was proud, supportive, and entertaining. And then, of course, his brother, Cecil, had always been a good friend. They rather constantly wrangled, but beneath the arguments and youthful competitiveness lay a very close bond.
Did you go away to school?
If so, was it hard to adjust emotionally?
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
Frederick Buechner, Speak What We Feel (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 92–93.
William Oddie, Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of G. K. C. 1874–1908 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), 101.
Oddie, Chesterton and Romance, 103.
Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).