His father, Edward, married Marie Grosjean, whose family had long been English, but had originally come from French Switzerland. They had three children, Gilbert, born on May 29, , Cecil, five years his junior, and Beatrice, who died in childhood. Gilbert's father distinguished between living and making a living: a successful businessman, he had a dozen hobbies, not the least of them the making of a toy-theatre, and he was widely read, especially in English literature.
A happy childhood in a happy home laid the foundation for Gilbert's sane and sensible outlook on life. As a little boy he read fairy tales; as a big boy he wrote and illustrated them, some of which are preserved in his book The Coloured Lands. Gilbert first attended Colet Court School, entering St. Paul's as a day student when he was twelve.
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The reports on him for his six years there were that he was a good boy but an indifferent student, a dreamer, interested chiefly in drawing and English literature. In his "dramatic journal,"kept irregularly from his sixteenth year, he dramatized scenes from Scott and burlesqued portions of Shakespeare. He later acknowledged the strong influence on his youthful formation made by the Junior Debating Club, of which he was chairman.
It met weekly at the home of one of its dozen teenage members and, following tea, one of them read a paper which was then debated. In the issues of its organ, The Debater , his first prose and verse were printed; his essays on Milton, Pope, Gray, Cowper, Burns, and Wordsworth being noteworthy. In his last year at St. Paul's , he entered a competition for a prize poem on St. Francis Xavier , and won it. From to he studied art at the Slade School and during part of the time he attended lectures on English literature at University College.
And upon leaving Slade, he entered the office of a publisher of spiritualistic literature and later the office of the general publisher, Fisher Unwin.
There he began to write Greybeards at Play as well as to revise, edit and counsel the works of others. At St. Paul's Gilbert formed lifelong friendships with the future writer Edmund C. Bentley and with Lucian Oldershaw. At first sight he fell in love with her sister Frances and, after a courtship extended by his then meager earnings, they were married in It was Lucian who, in , also introduced the twenty-six-year old Gilbert to the thirty-year-old Belloc.
Their reciprocal influence was lifelong as was their friendship. In Gilbert began writing for The Speaker , a Liberal weekly. His first book, a volume of comic verse which he also illustrated, Greybeards at Play , was successfully published in ; later that year, his father financed publication of his second book, The Wild Knight and Other Poems.
GK Chesterton: A Biography by Ian Ker
But it was his brilliant though unpopular pro-Boer stand on the Boer War which first brought him to public attention, and by he also was writing regularly for The Daily News. His third book, The Defendant , comprised some of his essays from The Speaker , and is suffused with paradoxes, a literary form which has since been associated with his name. Knox, "but, after all, what was a paradox but a statement of the obvious so as to make it sound untrue? He prided himself on being a journalist, and much of his work was first published in the popular journals of the day, many of his books being collected and edited from these essays, and much more of it has never been collected at all.
He was a tall man-six-foot two, and a stout one- nearly three hundred pounds; he dressed unconventionally in a wide-brimmed slouch hat and a flowing cloak; and carried a walking stick; he had a leonine head and a rather straggly blonde mustache. By the time he was only thirty-two he had become famous, instantly recognized in public and in caricature.
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
True, some of his most popular works had been published by then: G. The invitation was doubtless extended on the strength of his books on Browning and on Dickens. The success of the latter was such that he was requested to write a series of prefaces to all of Dickens' novels.
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At the time of his marriage he believed in the basic Christian religious truths but in no particular religion. His wife was a convinced Anglo-Catholic, and she was particularly pleased when in he accepted an invitation to be the first of a series of lay preachers in St.
G.K. Chesterton: A Biography by Ian Ker
Paul's Church, Covent Garden. From this time on there was an almost constant stream of lecture engagements far and wide and to almost every type of organization,-religious, literary, social, and even political. He was famous, he was wanted, and he couldn't say no. His wife became his secretary recording times, places, subjects, and arranging itineraries.
He became so pressed for time that he had to write at odd moments and to do his newspaper essays at deadline. This constant pressure extended from to He was notoriously absent-minded. Typical was the telegram he sent his wife when he was en route to give a lecture: "Am in Market Harborough. Where ought I to be? When Gilbert had attacked the philosophy of G.
"An Inconvenience is simply an adventure misunderstood" –Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Street, he retorted that he would worry about it when G. The tesult was Orthodoxy , a series of positive arguments for Christianity. Etienne Gilson considered it ''The best piece of apologetic the century has produced. The meager returns on his numerous and popular writings moved him at this time to employ a literary agent; with gratifying results.
He began a weekly column, "Our Notebook,'' in The Illustrated London News in and continued it until his death thirty-one years later. In he and his wife moved from Battersea, London, to the suburban town of Beaconsfield, which was to be their home for the rest of their lives. Their desire for children was never to be fulfilled; later they adopted Dorothy Collins who had become Gilbert's secretary in At Overroads, their Beaconsfield home, he was removed from the bustle and bars of Fleet Street and had more leisure for his friends: Max Beerbohm, Jack Phillmore, Msgr.
Knox, and a host of others. Too, his interest in politics, which he had had from boyhood, became more active: he began by fighting the sale of peerages as a means of secretly raising party funds, and continued blasting every other form of political corruption. Of necessity this interest included social reform, public education, a free press, etc.
He doubtless resigned just before being asked to, for his recent statements regarding the Liberal party leaders included: "Some of them are very nice oldgentlemen, some of them are very nasty old gentlemen, and some of them are old without being gentlemen at all. Reacting against what they believed wrong with the English social-economic condition, Gilbert, his brother Cecil, and Belloc formulated their own program: Distributism.
One of their principal points of controversy was over private ownership, chiefly ownership of the land which was tragically curtailed by the law of enclosure by which some five million acres ceased in effect to be the common property of the poor and became the private property of the rich. In books and articles they carried on their fight for the liberty of Englishmen against increasing enslavement to a plutocracy, and to expose and combat corruption in public life. Ian Ker. Chesterton is remembered as a brilliant creator of nonsense and satirical verse, author of the Father Brown stories and the innovative novel, The Man who was Thursday, and yet today he is not counted among the major English novelists and poets.
However, this major new biography argues that Chesterton should be seen as the successor of the great Victorian prose writers, Carlyle, Arnold, Ruskin, and above all Newman. Chesterton's achievement as one of the great English literary critics has not hitherto been fully recognized, perhaps because his best literary criticism is of prose rather than poetry.
Ian Ker remedies this neglect, paying particular attention to Chesterton's writings on the Victorians, especially Dickens. As a social and political thinker, Chesterton is contrasted here with contemporary intellectuals like Bernard Shaw and H. Wells in his championing of democracy and the masses.