A Near Closing of the Curtain

English Author Is Stricken with Paralysis at His Home

LONDON. Jan. 2.—Gilbert K. Chesterton is dying, according to information received today by The Times correspondent from a relative of the famous essayist. For more than a month Mr. Chesterton has been lying in a critical condition in his country home, Overroads, at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. The exact nature of his illness has not been disclosed, but it is rumoured that he suffered a stroke of paralysis.

Special Cable to the New York Times, “G. K. Chesterton Dying,” a 94-word news flash published on Sunday, 3 January 1915, page 1

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 19

In Chapter 19 of Defiant Joy, Kevin Belmonte recounts an episode in 1914 when G.K. Chesterton almost lost his life.  The circumstances we dire and such that outlets as far away as the New York Times were already announcing his impending death.  The cause was unclear, but his family suspected a stroke.

Kevin Belmonte writes:

It had all started in late November 1914. On the twenty-fifth, Chesterton spoke to a large gathering of Oxford undergraduates “in defense of the English declaration of War.” As he was speaking, he suddenly felt so dizzy that he had to leave the platform. Still feeling ill, he returned home. Perhaps to divert his mind, he began a letter to George Bernard Shaw. He wrote a few lines and laid down his pen. With great difficulty, he made his way to his bedroom. Just as he reached his bed, he collapsed, falling headlong with such force that his bed broke.

Terribly frightened at finding her husband in such a state, Frances called for the doctor. When he arrived, the initial diagnosis was a heart attack, with complications that impaired his mind and vital organs. It was a complete physical breakdown.

Then, on Christmas Eve, Chesterton lapsed into a coma, broken only by brief moments of consciousness. By mid-January 1915, the greatest danger had passed. On January 18, Frances wrote to Father O’Connor saying, “Gilbert has improved yesterday and again today. . . . He asked for me today, which is a great advance. He is dreadfully weak, but the brain-clouds are clearing, though the doctors won’t allow him to make the slightest effort to think. Please God he will recover normally.”

Have you ever nearly lost your life?

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

The information in this post and the quotes therein are taken from Joseph Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996) and from Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence

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