I cannot remember when I first met Chesterton. I was so much struck by a review of Scott’s Ivanhoe which he wrote for the Daily News that I wrote to him asking who he was and where he came from, as he was evidently a new star in literature.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (1937)
Chesterton’s first real appearance in the literary world of America took place on September 27, 1902, when a review of The Defendant, his first book of collected essays,was published in the New York Times. It was a noteworthy debut.
Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 5
In Chapter 5 of Defiant Joy, the genius of G.K. Chesterton is outed by his book of essays The Defendant. It is both wonderful and ironic that the literary world of 1902 was bereft of the sophisticated marketing engines that typically accompany the book launch of today. There were no advertising splashes or video teasers and certainly no social media buzz created by witting and unwitting fans. The work simply spoke for itself.
As Kevin Belmonte writes,
Meanwhile, in England itself, Chesterton’s book had caused a stir and prompted a flurry of reviews. No less a figure in the world of letters than the redoubtable Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch found things to his liking in The Defendant. He is familiar today to readers of 84 Charing Cross Road as “Q” and more widely celebrated still as the author of Studies in Literature and editor of The Oxford Book of English Verse. Writing for the Bookman in February 1902, Sir Arthur observed:
“The most characteristic, and perhaps most delightful, quality in Mr. Chesterton’s writing is his courageous innocence. . . . The most ordinary occurrences in the world are marvellous in his eyes, and his optimism proceeds from a blessed contentment with a planet which provides so many daily miracles. . . . [Yet] he is by no means a philosopher in a basket, but a moralist with a good everyday working code.”
Quiller-Couch then recommended the essay “A Defence of Rash Vows” as a good place for the reader to begin sampling the best of Chestertonian fare.
“The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words—“free-love”—as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.”
Describe the time you created something you were proud of.
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
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, as quoted in D. J. Conlon, ed., G. K. Chesterton: The Critical Judgements (Antwerp Belgium: Studies in English Literature, 1976) 38–39.
Chesterton, The Defendant, 23.
Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).