Chesterton vs Wells

H.G Wells was born on September 21, 1866. He was a brilliant thinker, but his humanistic worldview sparked a grand debate with none other than G.K. Chesterton.  Chesterton wrote The Everlasting Man in 1925 as a literary rebuttal of Wells’ Outline of History in which Wells characterized human life as a seamless extension of animal life.  In his book Defiant Joy, author Kevin Belmonte notes Chesterton’s desire to position his book as a counter-point dialog with Wells. One of the most famous passages explores the distinct differences between mankind and animals.

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Saint Francis

The detail over which these monks went mad with joy was the universe itself; the only thing really worthy of enjoyment. The white daylight shone over all the world, the endless forests stood up in their order. The lightning awoke and the tree fell and the sea gathered into mountains and the ship went down, and all these disconnected and meaningless and terrible objects were all part of one dark and fearful conspiracy of goodness, one merciless scheme of mercy.
—“FRANCIS,” FROM VARIED TYPES (1903)

Long ago in those days of boyhood my fancy first caught fire with the glory of Francis of Assisi.” So wrote Chesterton in the opening pages of one of his best-beloved books, St. Francis of Assisi, published in 1923. This medieval saint, it seems, had always held a special place in his moral imagination, and the writing of this biographical study was fulfilling a debt of gratitude.

But it was an odd pairing of kindred souls, to be sure. Francis, the ascetic saint, and Chesterton the ebullient bon vivant—a man whose appearance and habits ran so dramatically counter to any notion of asceticism.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 21


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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


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A Near Closing of the Curtain

G.K. CHESTERTON DYING
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


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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


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Mr. Shaw’s Insistent Demand

When one breathes Irish air, one becomes a practical man. In England I used to say what a pity it was you did not write a play.

—GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, 1909

Chesterton’s first play, Magic: A Fantastic Comedy in a Prelude and Three Acts, caused a considerable stir when it was first staged in 1913. Despite a mixed reaction from critics, it was in many ways an auspicious debut.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 17


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