A Chestertonian Friend - or Enemy?
Today a friend of mine told me he had perused the very unusual book called Platitudes Undone which is a facsimile edition of Platitudes in the Making - a copy of which its author, Holbrook Jackson, signed and presented to GKC, and into which GKC wrote a number of comments and replies in GREEN PENCIL.
Let me explain this, as it is a little tricky, and I want you to understand.
1. Holbrook Jackson wrote a book, Platitudes in the Making. It is small, slim volume, consisting of a collection of Jackson's epigrams, or short pithy sayings.
2. Jackson signed a copy of it and presented it to GKC.
3. At some later time, GKC went through it, and scribbled notes or replies in GREEN PENCIL by nearly every on eof Jackson's quips. GKC mentioned the book in one of his essays, and indicates one or two of his replies, but in no way hinted that he had commented on nearly every line of Jackson.
4. Sometime between then and about 1990, the book escaped from GKC's library, and was found (I believe) in California... (I will have to look up the story, which is rather interesting!)
5. Ignatius Press reprinted this book in a facsimile edition - the book looks almost exactly like Jackson's original, and GKC's comments are in his own GREEN handwriting.
6. I gave a copy to the library in our Control Room at work, and one of my friends there borrowed it, read it, and toldme about it today.
OK. Now... got it? Here is in essence what he said: "Very interesting - but I cannot tell whether Jackson was one of Chesterton's best friends or worst enemies."
Indeed! This is a most succinct and penetrating evaluation of Chesterton! As usual, I waxed eloquent - well, not quite that gaudy - I talked a lot about Chesterton (we were waiting for our lunch to arrive) and I told him that this is a primary characteristic of GKC. Even his most bitter opponents (such as George Bernard Shaw) were treated as his dear friends - but even his good friends could expect a strong, quick rebuttal if GKC detected some definite error in reasoning.
Certainly this is a topic for a long discussion, and since we were at work, and there was no beer available, we had to defer additional discussion - also, the food arrived!
But I did promise him that I would report on the published link that there is between Jackson and Chesterton. It is the conclusion of one of his ILN essays:
I see on my table a book of aphorisms by a young Socialist writer, Mr. Holbrook Jackson; it is called "Platitudes in the Making," and curiously illustrates this difference between the paradox that starts thought and the paradox that prevents thought. Of course, the writer has read too much Nietzsche and Shaw, and too little of less groping and more gripping thinkers. But he says many really good things of his own, and they illustrate perfectly what I mean here about the suggestive and the destructive nonsense.
Thus in one place he says, "Suffer fools gladly: they may be right." That strikes me as good; but here I mean specially that it strikes me as fruitful and free. You can do something with the idea; it opens an avenue. One can go searching among one's more solid acquaintances and relatives for the fires of a concealed infallibility. One may fancy one sees the star of immortal youth in the somewhat empty eye of Uncle George; one may faintly follow some deep rhythm of nature in the endless repetitions with which Miss Bootle tells a story; and in the grunts and gasps of the Major next door may hear, as it were, the cry of a strangled god. It can never narrow our minds, it can never arrest our life, to suppose that a particular fool is not such a fool as he looks. It must be all to the increase of charity, and charity is the
imagination of the heart.
I turn the next page, and come on what I call the barren paradox. Under the head of "Advices," Mr. Jackson writes, "Don't think - do." This is exactly like saying "Don't eat - digest." All doing that is not mechanical or accidental involves thinking; only the modern world seems to have forgotten that there can be such a thing as decisive and dramatic thinking. Everything that comes from the will must pass through the mind, though it may pass quickly. The only sort of thing the strong man can "do" without thinking is something like falling over a doormat. This is not even making the mind jump; it is simply making it stop. I take another couple of cases at random. "The object of life is life." That affects me as ultimately true; always presuming the author is liberal enough to include eternal life. But even if it is nonsense, it is thoughtful nonsense.
On another page I read, "Truth is one's own conception of things." That is thoughtless nonsense. A man would never have had any conception of things at all unless he had thought they were things and there was some truth about them. Here we have the black nonsense, like black magic, that shuts down the brain. "A lie is that which you do not believe." That is a lie; so perhaps Mr. Jackson does not believe it.
[GKC, Illustrated London News March 11, 1911, CW29:53-54]