Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Kitchens of a Lord

Lord KitchenerLord Kitchener by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yet one more time, reviewing Chesterton seems entirely pointless. Still, I shall make an attempt.

This book is, you may have foreseen, about a man named Lord Kitchener. He was a military man that was a contemporary of Chesterton's, and he seems to have practiced war in much the same way that Edward the First of England did upon Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf, or Llywelyn ap Gruffydd of Wales if you prefer (sorry Brits, I side with the consonantally enriched): that of superior force and minimal risk, entrenching every victory before moving an inch beyond the ground that was conquered, his army seemingly shoved on from behind by the impetus of his supply train. Slow yet inexorable, Chesterton compares him to a giant snail threatening the lightning Arabs that he was attacking. In his later years, he was involved in the Great War.

More than anything else, this book is fascinating in the fascination that Chesterton had with Lord Kitchener, primarily as a unique individual and secondarily as a sample of the English race as a whole. It is another example of Lewis' maxim that love bestows loveliness: in Chesterton's exuberant praise and hesitant censure, we find ourselves unable to resist developing a similar affection for the man that otherwise would have been largely or entirely unknown to us.

I have long read Chesterton with a certain awe, the type of awe I feel in Ivanhoe when Christopher Lee's paralyzing voice commands "Pray!" or when listening to Joss Ackland read The Screwtape Letters or when watching Anderson Silva deliver a flying knee, and I have come to the conviction that Chesterton never spent a great deal of time revising what he wrote. Not because it is poor, but quite the opposite: it is of such a uniform magnificence that it seems impossible to me that it is the result of "many hours of labour or nights devoid of ease:" there would be a greater variance in it. No, I think he simply wrote in his great, childish wonder, bemused by the absurdity of the world and in imitation of the Mind from which so great an offense to reason as a hippopotamus could proceed, and then, even as his creation was on to the printer he was on to the next item that happened to catch his enormous eye that viewed the world with the mind at once of a philosopher and a child. After all, "philosophers ask the most important questions, save only children." I feel that he is the type of man that one could never quite catch: even as you would grasp one point, he would have made the next three and then gone on to the next topic.

Whether or not this is true I shan't know for some time yet (at least two months, judging from the size of my bag of oatmeal), but I am quite certain that he didn't spend more than an hour or two on this little book. I tend to read fast, though not as fast as N.T. Wright can write, but I think that most Chesterton enthusiasts would find this book entirely suitable for a single pipe and no more than a finger or two of rum, as in "I don't care where the water runs if it doesn't run into the rum."

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