Category Archives: Chesterton & Dickens

I Know that School; It’s a Good One

I wonder if Chesterton had read any Charlotte Mason?

…the French have an incomparable idiom for a boy playing truant: “Il fait l’école buissonnière”—he goes to the bushy school, or the school among the bushes….How admirably this “bushy school” expresses half the modern notions of a more natural education! The two words express the whole poetry of Wordsworth, the whole philosophy of Thoreau, and are quite as good literature as either.

—G. K. Chesterton,
Charles Dickens: The Last of the Great Men

A Great Day for Birthdays

You just know I had to mention this today! It’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday. She was born on February 7, 1867, in that famous little house in the Big Woods near Pepin, Wisconsin.

As it happens, Charles Dickens was born on the same day, 55 years earlier, just a few months before the U.S. reached its boiling point and declared war on Great Britain, launching the War of 1812. Laura’s maternal grandmother, Charlotte Tucker, was not quite three years old when Dickens was born. Dickens died in 1870, when Laura was three. Jane finds this to be an interesting symmetry.

Click here for more famous folks born on February 7th. Among them are John Deere of tractor fame (1804), the German composer Ernst Franck (1847), novelist Sinclair Lewis (1885), and Hrafnhildur Hafsteinsdottir, Iceland’s 1996 Miss Universe winner (1976). (Okay, so I’ve never heard of her before. Who could resist that name!)

Chesterton on Hope

“It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youth the wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is pre-eminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged: God has kept that good wine until now.”

—G. K. Chesterton,
Charles Dickens: The Last of the Great Men

“The Ungovernable Sense of Life”

From G. K. Chesterton’s Charles Dickens, the Last of the Great Men

No man ever encouraged his characters so much as Dickens. “I am an affectionate father,” he says, “to every child of my fancy.” He was not only an affectionate father, he was an ever-indulgent father. The children of his fancy are spoilt children. They shake the house like heavy and shouting schoolboys; they smash the story to pieces like so much furniture. When we moderns write stories our characters are better controlled. But, alas! our characters are rather easier to control. We are in no danger from the gigantic gambols of creatures like Mantalini and Micawber. We are in no danger of giving our readers too much Weller or Wegg. We have not got it to give. When we experience the ungovernable sense of life which goes along with the old Dickens sense of liberty, we experience the best of the revolution. We are filled with the first of all democratic dontrines, that all men are interesting; Dickens tried to make some of his people appear dull people, but he could not keep them dull. He could not make a monotonous man. The bores in his books are brighter than the wits in other books.

And also:

Dickens’s art is like life because, like life, it is irresponsible, because, like life, it is incredible.

Chesterton and Dickens

For those of you who have not been following the comments to my recent posts on Dickens (here and here), Nancy Brown & Love2Learn Mom were kind enough to tell me about G. K. Chesterton’s biography of Charles Dickens, The Last of the Great Men. I’ve ordered it from the library and am excited to begin—the perfect kick-off to a new year of reading.

I’ve decided upon a Chesterton and Dickens concentration for the upcoming year. I don’t know that I’ll achieve the long-term goal of Writing and Living, who, as you know, plans to read Dickens’s entire body of work in 2006, but I plan to spend a few months, at least, in the company of these two amiable gentlemen, Gilbert and Charles.

A useful (and delightful) link: The American Chesterton Society blog.

My other monthly reading goals for 2006:

• Two children’s novels a month—newly published, or new to me
(first on the list: The Penderwicks—no surprise there)

• At least one adult novel not by Dickens
(first on the list: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant and Life of Pi by Yann Martel)

“Snuggling Up to Genius”

Writing and Living is about to embark upon a Year of Dickens. Inspired by James of My Year in Shakespeare, she plans to spend 2006 reading all of Dickens’s novels in the order of publication. I have been eagerly reading her posts about this, in part because I toyed with a similar idea a couple of months ago when I was grounded by a stomach bug and assuaged my misery by curling up (in the fetal position) with David Copperfield. As has always been the case with Dickens, I enjoyed the novel so thoroughly—immeasurably!—that I was hungry for more (perhaps the only thing in the world I could possibly have been hungry for at the time, given the state of my poor stomach). I had an urge to read his entire body of work, beginning at the beginning.

Alas, I must confess that Pickwick’s opening did me in. In my vulnerable condition, I did not think I could endure several hundred pages more of those boisterous, loquacious gentlemen. I’m willing to give it another shot, though, someday. And I have yet to read Bleak House and Martin Chuzzlewit. Writing and Living may well inspire me to do so. After all, the March girls were mad for Pickwick & friends. Surely I must give these amiable fellows a second chance.

Anyway, all this Dickens talk brought to mind something I read long ago in the introduction to Kate Douglas Wiggins’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. It was an unforgettable account of young (very young) Kate’s encounter with Charles Dickens himself on a train during one of his reading tours of the United States. I no longer have the edition of Rebecca which contains the article (Alice, I think it was your copy?), but I Googled this morning with hope in my heart and aha! There it was, in full, at a delightful site called

An excerpt:

There on the platform stood the Adored One. His hands were plunged deep in his pockets (a favorite posture), but presently one was removed to wave away laughingly a piece of the famous Berwick sponge-cake offered him by Mr. Osgood, of Boston, his traveling companion and friend.

I knew him at once: the smiling, genial, mobile face, rather highly colored, the brilliant eyes, the watch-chain, the red carnation in the buttonhole, and the expressive hands, much given to gesture. It was only a momentary view, for the train started, and Dickens vanished, to resume his place in the car next to ours, where he had been, had I known it, ever since we left Portland.

Shortly thereafter, the intrepid Kate slips into Dickens’s car, where she finds him alone and launches into a discussion of his "stories":

"Well, upon my word!" he said. "You do not mean to say that you have read them!"

"Of course I have," I replied. "Every one of them but the two that we are going to buy in Boston, and some of them six times."

"Bless my soul!" he ejaculated again. "Those long, thick books, and you such a slip of a thing!"

"Of course," I explained, conscientiously, "I do skip some of the very dull parts once in a while; not the short dull parts, but the long ones."

He laughed heartily. "Now, that is something that I hear very little about," he said. "I distinctly want to learn more about those very dull parts," and, whether to amuse himself or to amuse me, I do not know, he took out a note-book and pencil from his pocket and proceeded to give me an exhausting and exhaustive examination on this subject—the books in which the dull parts predominated, and the characters and subjects which principally produced them. He chuckled so constantly during this operation that I could hardly help believing myself extraordinarily agreeable; so I continued dealing these infant blows under the delusion that I was flinging him bouquets.

You can read the article in its entirety here.