What I Saw In America

For years [Chesterton] forbore visiting America, but [finally] he decided to cross the Atlantic, in order, he announced, to “lose my impressions of the United States.”
NEW YORK TIMES (1936)

Inclement weather aside, the Chestertons seemed to have relished the prospect of this, their first trip to America. When Maisie Ward was researching her biography of Chesterton, she discovered that “Frances kept clippings of almost all their interviews” during their travels in the United States. G. K., for his part, seems to have looked on the first days following their arrival with a mixture of amusement and curiosity.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 20


In Chapter 20 of Defiant Joy, Kevin Belmonte describes G.K. Chesterton’s speaking tour of the United States in 1921. Chesterton wrote of his journey in What I Saw in America which was published in London the next year. In it, he wrote “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature.”  He loved America and America returned the sentiment.

Kevin Belmonte writes:

There was no denying it, America liked the man mountain from overseas. America had its T. R. Now she was treated to a personal acquaintance with the man England had long since taken to calling G. K. C. And to round out the list, the New York Times was not least among the papers that had heralded his arrival:

We greet with a glad heart the landing of CHESTERTON, whose banner of whims o’er the world is unrolled. He has a plethora of friends here, who are too much inclined to regard him as the last enchantment of the Middle Age. He is only a medievalist in the sense that he venerates tradition and continuity, and that to him old things are young and dead things quick. Like Merlin, one of the few historical characters in this universal romance of the World as Fiction, he remembers the oak when it was an acorn and the Thunder Lizard when it was, so to speak, a chicken. . . .

Mr. CHESTERTON is a ballad man and poet of originality and distinction. He has a vivid creative power as a romantic novelist. Those of us who swear by “The Man Who Was Thursday,” “The Napoleon of Notting Hill,” “The Ballad of the White Horse,” and so on, are pained, but not surprised, to find him called an essayist. . . . A hearty stripling, a good young man, sir. We hope to hear him when he will be talking. Illustrious diplomatist of letters, he should have privileges. Not on lemonade were those mighty physical and mental thews built up and nourished.

Describe a memorable trip abroad

 

L e a r n  M o r e


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

G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw In America (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922)

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