I am currently reading “Heretics,” which is much more a romp than a trial, though it is still very much an indictment of some of the flawed habits of thought in Chesterton’s time. It seems that even the abundant sunshine of Chesterton’s thought could not fully disinfect our society from them; many of the “heresies” are alive and well today.
Chesterton’s usual tactic is to show that, while these heretics believe they are advancing a startling truth, the startling fact is that they have it all “topsy-turvy”. He notes, for example, that some in his day were taking an aggressive stand against alcohol, because the consequences are dangerous, though they made it a point to say that wine could be used medicinally.
He responds, “The one genuinely dangerous and immoral way of drinking wine is to drink it as a medicine. And for this reason, if a man drinks wine in order to obtain pleasure, he is trying to obtain something exceptional, something he does not expect every hour of the day, something which, unless he is a little insane, he will not try to get every hour of the day. But if a man drinks wine in order to obtain health, he is trying to get something natural; something, that is, that he ought not to be without; something that he may find it difficult to reconcile himself to being without…
“The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules – a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.”
Another passage left me thoroughly entertained. He was dealing with a man named George Moore, whom I do not know, though he apparently was a prideful man. Chesterton said that it is one thing to be humble, which is not only a virtue but a very liberating quality. The humble man, he says, is the one who is truly free to achieve great things. He further distinguishes between vanity, which he lays upon Robert Louis Stevenson, and pride, which is Moore’s stated flaw. Vanity, according to Chesterton, is a social ill – at least the vain person wishes to have the applause of many, while the prideful person only desires the applause of one – himself. (Paraphrased).
He goes on: “We should really be much more interested in Mr. Moore if he were not quite so interested in himself. We feel as though we were being shown through a gallery of really fine pictures, into each of which, by some useless and discordant convention, the artist had represented the same figure in the same attitude. “The Grand Canal with a distant view of Mr. Moore,” “Effect of Mr. Moore though a Scotch Mist,” “Mr. Moore by Firelight,” “Ruins of Mr. Moore by Moonlight,” and so on, seems to be the endless series.”
I hope you enjoy it, too.