G. K. Chesterton: On Lying in Bed and Other Essays

25May11

It’s quite a remarkable essayist that can take an obscure subject and generate four pages of approachable wisdom out of thin air, without relating a single personal anecdote. Of course, nothing emerges from thin air, and a writer like G.K. Chesterton considers subjects he must have been thinking about for quite some time. But that doesn’t change how impressive his writing is for remaining fresh, insightful, curious and joyful.

At over five hundred pages, On Lying In Bed and Other Essays (Alberto Manguel, editor) is a hefty selection of work, but it’s well worth the trip, so far. Several essays in a row take the time to refute our mixed up priorities, and then detail the virtues of the overlooked: “Gold is certainly a less fascinating element than silver. And even silver is to the spirit which retains its childhood less fascinating then lead. Lead is a truly epic substance … in colour it is the most delicate tint of dimmed silver … it is at once robust and malleable, it bends and it resists; we have the same feeling towards a stiff layer of lead that we have towards destiny.” Only lead could have been used for the bands and framework of stained glass, Chesterton suggests, so that the “gigantic jewels of the church,” were blocked by “heavier boundaries” as if outlined by a “very big and broad lead pencil.”

All this might seem self-evident on reading it, but I think it’s an excellent writer that turns over and explores a lot of unsaid, vaguely instinctive ideas to see if they ultimately make sense, and why we might believe in them. Chesterton even goes on to consider if lead is the working class substance, or the one that restricts the working class, for standing “stiff and still in churches,” or being suddenly “spat out in shots,” in the form of bullets.

Even if there are occasional flaws in his thinking, his very approach gently and consistently encourages original thinking. Certainly, he doesn’t limit himself, and appears capable of fascination with anything, commenting in “A Defense of Bores,” that “the blame, if there be blame, is with us for being bored.” Meditations like these should be seen as valuable by anyone who believes our society should have a degree of flexibility, and an ability to reexamine.

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One Response to “G. K. Chesterton: On Lying in Bed and Other Essays”

  1. 1 Matthias

    Thanks Alex. I knew of Chesterton as a celebrated Roman Catholic. There’s obviously a lot more to him.


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