The Toast of London

Though the knight-errant who seeks for giants and cuts their heads off is out of date, nothing can be more modern than Sir Chesterton of Overroads, who seeks for convictions and turns them inside out.

—GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (1916)

It is one of Mr. Chesterton’s jolly maxims that a man should be able to laugh at himself, poke fun at himself, enjoy his own absurdity. It is an excellent test of mental health. Man is a tragi-comedian. He should see himself the quaint “forked radish” that he is, fantastic as well as wonderful. He should see his mind ready to do battle and die, if need be, for an idea, but equally ready to get into a passion because his egg is boiled too hard. He should, in a word, see himself not as a hero, but as a man of strange virtues and stranger follies, a figure to move him to alternate admiration and laughter.

—ALFRED GEORGE GARDINER (1914)

In April 1914 A. G. Gardiner, editor of the Daily News and an accomplished essayist, published a new edition of his book of character portraits, a collection called Prophets, Priests, and Kings. As its title indicated, people from all three groups were the subject of profiles—including King Edward VII, Kaiser Wilhelm, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, John Singer Sargent, George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, General William Booth of the Salvation Army, and Florence Nightingale. All were leading figures in the worlds of politics, the visual arts, literature, and philanthropy. Chesterton was numbered among them, and the resulting prose portrait revealed the man who was G. K. C. at the height of his powers and celebrity.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 18


By time G.K. Chesterton was 40 years old, he had written five novels, two biographies, book-length collections of essays and apologetics, innumerable journalistic pieces, and to Shaw’s delight, a play.  He was lauded for all and was the literary toast of London. In Chapter 18 of Kevin Belmonte’s Defiant Joy, we read of A.G. Gardiner’s description of Chesterton at this time.

Kevin Belmonte writes:

If ever someone wanted to see him as he was at this time, one could do no better than to read this well-wrought and closely observed essay. Gardiner knew Chesterton well, as Chesterton had once been a columnist for the Daily News. His prose portrait (all the better for not being uncritical) comes as close as any such contemporary essay has done to allowing the reader to meet Chesterton in the flesh. It captures Chesterton as he was in the time before the world was forever changed by the cataclysm of World War I.“Walking down Fleet Street some day,” Gardiner began,

“you may meet a form whose vastness blots out the heavens. Great waves of hair surge from under the soft, wide-brimmed hat. A cloak that might be a legacy from Porthos floats about his colossal frame. He pauses in the midst of the pavement to read the book in his hand, and a cascade of laughter descending from the head notes to the middle voice gushes out on the listening air. He looks up, adjusts his pince-nez, observes that he is not in a cab, remembers that he ought to be in a cab, turns and hails a cab. The vehicle sinks down under the unusual burden and rolls heavily away. It carries Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

Mr. Chesterton is the most conspicuous figure in the landscape of literary London. He is like a visitor out of some fairy tale, a legend in the flesh, a survival of the childhood of the world. Most of us are the creatures of our time, thinking its thoughts, wearing its clothes, rejoicing in its chains. If we try to escape from the temporal tyranny, it is through the gate of revolt that we go. Some take to asceticism or to some fantastic foppery of the moment. Some invent Utopias, lunch on nuts and proteid at Eustace Miles’, and flaunt red ties defiantly in the face of men and angels. The world is bond, but they are free. But in all this they are still the children of our time, fleeting and self-conscious. Mr. Chesterton’s extravagances have none of this quality. He is not a rebel. He is a wayfarer from the ages, stopping Prophets, Priests, and Kings at the inn of life, warming himself at the fire and making the rafters ring with his jolly laughter.”

How would a journalist describe you?

D I G  D E E P E R


Kevin Belmonte

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

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).

Published by

Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life