Saturday, February 8, 2014

Chesterton on Dickens

Every weekend in 2014, we're digging into the prolific work of G.K. Chesterton with Amongst Lovely Things. Join us! All you need is a snippet- a short quote taken from anything he's written. Blog it and link up below, or share your snippet to the comments on this post.

You can add commentary or photos if you'd like (you know I can't ever resist adding a photo, myself!), but all you need is a snippet. Let's keep this thing simple! Reading even a few lines of Chesterton every week is bound to be profitable.

I've mentioned that I'm reading Charles Dickens' Childs History of England that I got on Kindle after discovering that the copy I got from the library had print much too small for my eyes. Reading it would have exhausted me!  But my Dear Husband looked it over before he returned it to the library, and, coincidentally, found an essay by Chesterton in the front. Chesterton had some interesting things to say about my complaints that Dickens was letting his anti-Catholicism show.

...this book will always remain as a bright and brisk summary of the cock-sure, healthy-minded, essentially manly and essentially ungentlemanly view of history which characterised the Radicals of that particular Radical era. The history tells us nothing about the periods that it talks about; but it tells us a great deal about the period that it does not talk about; the period in which it was written. It is in no sense a history of England from the Roman invasion; but it is certainly one of the documents which will contribute to a history of England in the nineteenth century. (emphasis added)
When I got to the part in the story about Dunstan,  Abbot Of Glastonbury Abbey and the true King of England, according to Dickens, I was a bit surprised, wondering to myself if he was the "St. Dunstan" I had heard of previously, for this priest did a great many things that Dickens did not care for!  In one instance, he "dragged" the newly crowned King away from his wife and mother-in-law back to the coronation reception "because the young King's fair wife was his own cousin, and the monks objected to people marrying their own cousins; but I believe he did it because he was an imperious, audacious, ill-conditioned priest, who, having loved a young lady himself before he became a sour monk, hated all love now, and everything belonging to it.

Dunstan also had the nerve to drive "all married priests out of the monasteries and abbeys, and replaced them by solitary monks like himself, of the rigid order called the Benedictines. He made himself Archbishop of Canterbury, for his greater glory."

When Dunstan finally died, after many years of controlling the young kings for his own benefit, "the monks settled that he was a Saint, and called him Saint Dunstan ever afterwards. They might just as well have settled that he was a coach-horse, and could just as easily have called him one.

You really have to laugh at some of these!  Chesterton, however, is here to save the day:
...turn to the account given by Charles Dickens of that great man, St. Dunstan. It is not that the pert cockney tone of the abuse is irritating to the nerves: it is that he has got the whole hang of the thing wrong. His head is full of the nineteenth-century situation; that a priest imposing discipline is a person somehow blocking the way to equality and light. Whereas the point about such a man as Dunstan was that nobody in the place except he cared a button about equality or light: and that he was defending what was left of them against the young and growing power of darkness and division and caste.

He does say that,

Sheer ignorance of the environment made him (Dickens) wrong about Dunstan. But sheer instinct and good moral tradition made him right, for instance, about Henry VIII.;

I shall look forward to that section of the book!  I have a ways to go, yet. 


  1. My birthday is actually St. Dunstan's feast day.

  2. Oooh! Like finding a gold coin tucked into the first pages of an old book! :)


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