Democracy of those who’re dead,
tradition leads us from the grave
with the thoughts have been said
to an old world that is brave,
for aided by democracy
of ghosts that to the past can bind us,
and horrors of hypocrisy,
tradition stands undead behind us.
Michael Wood reviews Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of GKC 1874-1908 by William Oddie and
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton in “A Preference for Torquemada” (LB, April 9, 2009):
‘I have often had a fancy,’ G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Orthodoxy (1908), ‘for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas.’ The man would arrive, ‘armed to the teeth and talking by signs’, and try to plant the British flag on the Brighton Pavilion. A little later Chesterton says: ‘I am that man in a yacht. I discovered England.’ He likes this trope and returns to it in detail in The Everlasting Man (1925), adding the variant story of the boy who couldn’t recognise the exotic secret of his village until he got far enough away from it. ‘That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today.’ Home is not only where the heart is, it is our only chance of having a heart. Everything else is an abstraction…
I had seen shadows of his invention in Borges, snatches of his thought In T.S. Eliot, echoes of his paradoxes in Larkin, and an allusion to his imagery in Nabokov (I’m thinking of the ‘democracy of ghosts’ in Pnin, which recalls Chesterton’s definition of tradition as ‘the democracy of the dead’).
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 4/16/09