Humility and Sanity: Glimpses of Chesterton and Waugh

In his 1908 book, entitled Orthodoxy — published fourteen years before he was received into the Catholic Church in the summer of 1922 — G.K. Chesterton speaks politely and acutely about the all-too-pervasive lunacy (and the somewhat diminished sanity) of the modern world he knew so well even then. By his first considering madness and some of the contrasting attractions of sanity, he also leads us to higher and deeper things, such as the enlivening and resilient, fuller order of virtue. That is, to the order of interrelated natural and infused virtues, as distinct from those precariously isolated and uprooted forms of virtue that are lonely and wandering and out of balance.

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  • Brain Kelly

    Thank you Robert for another magnificent essay. I had to read this one slowly, until I got to Lord Moping and the Outing of Mr. Loveday. That was an essay as hilarious as it was pathetic. A good example, to be sure, of heartlessness without pity and foolish displacement of virtue. Chesterton’s exposure of the phrase “his heart was in the right place” as exemplifying the exact opposite of forfeiting truth for emotion. And, too, the hard-heartedness of having the truth with no heart. The danger of virues isolated from the other virtues, wandering about alone, without order, was insightful. Justice and peace are supposed to kiss, today they do not even bow, How true. Good thoughts, too, by G.K. on the futility of pleasure-seekers who live for the flesh or human glory, even feigning humility (dislocated) to be praised “without humility it is impossible to enjoy anything — even pride.” The boredom, too, of indulgence, for it is distasteful because there is no “surprise” or wonder. Beautiful. Remember as children the joy of expectation, unwrapping the gift was part of the “surprise”. Without the wrapping (the surprise) the gift would lose its flavor. I love the quote on how much larger the world becomes for us when we make ourselves smaller {the saints, too, are enlarged in our devotion] for they were nothing in their own estimation, all was grace from above. Indeed, as you note, so St. John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Evelyn Waugh’s comment before reconciling with Randolph Churchill was so funny, after Churchill had a lung removed that had no malignancy “The only part of Churchill not malignant and they remove it”. I especially appreciate the wisdom of Chesterton which you manage to bring out so well, as he notes in the Everlasting Man the “absence of the presence of God” on the flip side being more “the presence of the absence of God.” Thusly, with Waugh’s Mr. Loveday’s Outing, we see the “presence of the absence of love.” And, Lady Mopling’s seasonal visits with her husband at the Asylum, from which she “always returned in time for tea.” and the ingratiatingly proper dinner parties. The red book DPOs. Priceless! Waugh is ingenious. And to think he [her hubbie] hung himself “in front of the Chester-Martins”. How uncouth! How unVictorian! On the other hand, I can imagine the anniversary parties at the Asylum. Reminds me of Jack Nicholson in Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And Nurse Crachett. The ending of Waugh’s essay is brilliant.

    Finally, you end with Chesterton’s observation in the Everlasting Man that absence “is a void not a negation; it is something as positive as an empty chair.” Yes! One reads about that tradition in Christian culture. The great Le Moyne family of Montreal. All great explorers, if not farmers and builders of towns. All trusted by the Indians because they were fair and just. One son founded New Olreans. Well, the LeMoyne brothers would hold a family council when necessary. And, guess what?. They always gave the place of honor to their father, Charles Le Moyne, Baron de Longueuil, that was “his empty chair.” Ciao for now. Thank you again. You may appreciate my latest article “It’s All Hebrew to Me”.

  • Brain Kelly

    Good article

  • Brian Kelly

    Thank you Robert for another magnificent essay. I had to read this one slowly, until I got to Lord Moping and the Outing of Mr. Loveday. That was an essay as hilarious as it was pathetic. A good example, to be sure, of heartlessness without pity and foolish displacement of virtue. Chesterton’s exposure of the phrase “his heart was in the right place” as exemplifying the exact opposite of forfeiting truth for emotion. And, too, the hard-heartedness of having the truth with no heart. The danger of virues isolated from the other virtues, wandering about alone, without order, was insightful. Justice and peace are supposed to kiss, today they do not even bow, How true. Good thoughts, too, by G.K. on the futility of pleasure-seekers who live for the flesh or human glory, even feigning humility (dislocated) to be praised “without humility it is impossible to enjoy anything — even pride.” The boredom, too, of indulgence, for it is distasteful because there is no “surprise” or wonder. Beautiful. Remember as children the joy of expectation, unwrapping the gift was part of the “surprise”. Without the wrapping (the surprise) the gift would lose its flavor. I love the quote on how much larger the world becomes for us when we make ourselves smaller {the saints, too, are enlarged in our devotion] for they were nothing in their own estimation, all was grace from above. Indeed, as you note, so St. John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Evelyn Waugh’s comment before reconciling with Randolph Churchill was so funny, after Churchill had a lung removed that had no malignancy “The only part of Churchill not malignant and they remove it”. I especially appreciate the wisdom of Chesterton which you manage to bring out so well, as he notes in the Everlasting Man the “absence of the presence of God” on the flip side being more “the presence of the absence of God.” Thusly, with Waugh’s Mr. Loveday’s Outing, we see the “presence of the absence of love.” And, Lady Mopling’s seasonal visits with her husband at the Asylum, from which she “always returned in time for tea.” and the ingratiatingly proper dinner parties. The red book DPOs. Priceless! Waugh is ingenious. And to think he [her hubbie] hung himself “in front of the Chester-Martins”. How uncouth! How unVictorian! On the other hand, I can imagine the anniversary parties at the Asylum. Reminds me of Jack Nicholson in Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And Nurse Crachett. The ending of Waugh’s essay is brilliant.
    Finally, you end with Chesterton’s observation in the Everlasting Man that absence “is a void not a negation; it is something as positive as an empty chair.” Yes! One reads about that tradition in Christian culture. The great Le Moyne family of Montreal. All great explorers, if not farmers and builders of towns. All trusted by the Indians because they were fair and just. One son founded New Olreans. Well, the LeMoyne brothers would hold a family council when necessary. And, guess what?. They always gave the place of honor to their father, Charles Le Moyne, Baron de Longueuil, that was “his empty chair.” Ciao for now. Thank you again. You may appreciate my latest article “It’s All Hebrew to Me”.