It is the glory and good of Art
That Art remains the one way possible
Of speaking truth,—to mouths like mine, at least.
—ROBERT BROWNING, THE RING AND THE BOOK(1869)
Meanwhile, a new opportunity beckoned that would aid that quest in a way no one could have predicted. For in December 1901, Chesterton received a “small literary proposal” from the distinguished editor John Morley…Just twenty-seven years old, Chesterton would now join the ranks of Anthony Trollope, Henry James, and Thomas Huxley, who had contributed prior volumes. It was, he would say later, “a crown of what I can only call respectability.”
In Chapter 6 of Defiant Joy, G.K. Chesterton caught the most significant break of his nascent literary career; he was invited to write a biography of Robert Browning for the famous Men of Letters series. It is one thing to produce excellent work, and quite something else to be recognized as a peer in the company of luminaries. The book did not disappoint. Though far from perfect (Chesterton played loose with dates and quotes) it nonetheless attracted widespread attention in literature’s upper echelon.
As Kevin Belmonte writes,
One passage from Chesterton’s discussion of Browning as a literary artist reveals the depth of his gratitude to the poet who had helped him to unriddle some of the numinous mysteries of nature and of life:
“One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
Describe the time your career was significantly advanced by an opportunity.
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
William Oddie, Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of G.K.C., 1874–1908 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009)
Joseph Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996)
G. K. Chesterton, The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton (London: Hutchinson & Co., Ltd., 1936), 99. See also Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence
Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).