Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together.
Science announced nonentity and art admired decay;
The world was old and ended, but you and I were gay.
Round us in antic order their crippled vices came—
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.
Between us, by the peace of God, such truth can now be told;
Yea, there is strength in striking root, and good in growing old.
We have found common things at last, and marriage and a creed,
And I may safely write it now, and you may safely read.
To the right is the verse dedicating G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday to his friend E. C. ("Clerihew") Bentley.
If you have never met G. K. Chesterton, your education is incomplete. The founder of the American Chesterton Society calls him both the greatest writer and the greatest thinker of the twentieth century. Certainly anyone who could define modernist doubt and nihilism is such easy banter as this verse is no mean intellect, nor could he lack a full and fertile heart. But Dale Alquist goes on to say "Modern thinkers and commentators and critics have found it much more convenient to ignore Chesterton rather than to engage him in an argument, because to argue with Chesterton is to lose." And he is right, on both points.
Chesterton was a prodigious writer and thinker; he wrote a daily newspaper essay and over a hundred books, including some of the finest "setpiece" mysteries ever written. He was the first Ruler of the famous Detection Club whose members included Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. He wrote theology—commonsense and correct theology, for the common man. His quickly penned biography of St. Thomas Aquinas has been called the finest ever written. And he may be the most quotable writer since Shakespeare—or the Bible.
Chesterton debated George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells publicly on morality and progress and everything that goes with them, and he usually won. He remained good friends with both, and when he died Shaw said "The world is not thankful enough for Chesterton."
I hope to include more of his books in our ever-changing Reading List, but for now I write of The Man Who Was Thursday.
Imagine you see the world about you filled with good people, bright and clean things, and yet ... there is a threat in the air; it is a scent of something that would destroy all that is good and bright. And imagine that you were called into a totally dark room where sat the head of a secret police force dedicated to answering this threat. You can tell somehow that he is an immense man, and you are told only that he lives in the dark to make his thoughts brighter.
And his brightest thought right now is to enlist you. And your only qualification is to be willing—to be a martyr. Such is the nightmare of Gabriel Syme.
And somehow this story is wild, and comic, and unruly. It is wild like the meadows and hills; unruly like the wind, and comic like the laugh of Nature herself. Invention flows from the pen of Chesterton. (Actually, he dictated much of his work.)
And somehow, in some unspecified way, it is deeply biographical. The man who was Thursday must one day come face to face with the thing he fears most: the great, terrifying, and wholly unpredictable Sunday.
And now we may safely read.