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Alarms and discursions

A collection of essays by G. K. Chesterton

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Discursing aplenty

  • Jan 16, 2014
When Chesterton starts off this collection of newspaper essays with the claim and reason why he wanted to start the title to this book with the even-then archaic "alarums" you have a pretty good idea that what will follow is vintage Chesterton.  And if you know and love Chesterton (I do and do) then you won't be disappointed (I wasn't).

Now like any collection of periodical newspaper pieces such as this one, some will be better than others.  After all even the best baseball hitters failed to hit 60% of the time, and Chesterton's batting average is way better than that.

I will attempt to curb my desire to quote huge passages of Chesterton's writing because it so funny, profound, and spiritual, and limit myself to only one section from the essay "The Wheel":

For those interested in revolt (as I am) I only say meekly that one cannot have a Revolution without revolving. The wheel, being a logical thing, has reference to what is behind as well as what is before. It has (as every society should have) a part that perpetually leaps helplessly at the sky and a part that perpetually bows down its head into the dust. Why should people be so scornful of us who stand on our heads? Bowing down one's head in the dust is a very good thing, the humble beginning of all happiness. When we have bowed our heads in the dust for a little time the happiness comes; and then (leaving our heads' in the humble and reverent position) we kick up our heels behind in the air.

Starting from a whimsical observation of what appears to be the stain glass image of an angel riding a bicycle in a church near his home, Chesterton winds up with these profound observations about politics, history, humility, happiness reverence, and . . . . back to revolt (for what could be a better definition of revolt than the kicking up of one's heels behind in the air?).  All in a simple, compact, powerful paragraph.

His essay on and entitled simply "Cheese" is both a frantically funny assessment of the worth of cheese and the beauty of the word itself, while serving as a taste travelogue of the cheeses and locales in England where they may be found.  "The Sentimentalist" seems a dated discourse on a long forgotten political type, until you realize that Chesterton has quietly but expertly led us, his modern American readers a century and an ocean removed from the original context, to a powerful and extremely timely (utterly timeless?) realization:

That is my political theory: that we should make England worth copying instead of telling everybody to copy her.

Ok I promised only one section so I must leave off with that one section and one sentence lifted from the alarums here published so that you may experience them yourself.  And you can, for free, in the Google Play app, as I did, courtesy of the Google scanning project.

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January 29, 2014
Thanks for sharing.
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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