Chesterton (and the rest)
Chesterton as Journalist
In the 12 October 1929 issue of the Illustrated London News, G.K. Chesterton wrote:
. . . How much more melancholy is the condition of those, in modernised and rationalised Western communities, who have to go about conducting secretly the cult of the Great God Namse! How much more uncomfortable it is to call on Namse morning, noon, and night, and yet never be allowed to call him by his name! How miserable is our condition in industrial Europe and America, who dare not call on Namse as Namse, but have to call him National Welfare or International Peace or the British Empire or the New Republic, or Progress . . . .
Chesterton was commenting on some photos, provided to the November 1928 issue of National Geographic Magazine by Joseph F.C. Rock, of certain religious processions at the Choni monastery in Tibet. Namse is the Tibetan god of wealth, whose image was carried in solemn reverence, just ahead of the Tibetan god of hell.
Chesterton goes on to argue the advantages of making Namse official god of England.
Suppose a member of Parliament asks as a supplementary question “Can the right hon. gentleman tell the House why he disposed a peerage on Mr. Bunk, formerly known as the Vanishing Bookmaker?” It would be healthy, but all too heroic if the Cabinet Minister rose and said simply, “I did it for the money.” But nobody could complain of unparliamentary language, if he rose and said with great gravity, “I did it for Namse.”
The quotes above are from a collection of Chesterton’s weekly columns in the Illustrated London News, issued a few years ago by Ignatius Press, part of Chesterton’s vast production of topical print.
Most people today think of Chesterton as a detective writer, then as a Christian apologist, sometimes as a poet and or a playwright. But Chesterton considered Chesterton as a newspaper man.
He was proud of it too, but we should add that he wasn’t a reporter in the Front Page vein. He did not climb fire-escapes to interview fugitives or shout “get me rewrite!” Rather, he wrote what we would call advocacy journalism (anti-imperialism, Christianity, distributionism, the sins of the Cadbury Company, and so on).
He wrote a lot of it. The ILN essays, which ran weekly from 1905 to 1931 dress out as nine very thick paperbacks. And yet this is a thin slice of the ham. Chesterton wrote for other newspapers, indeed for any newspaper that would pay. Later in life he and his brother wrote their own newspaper, and after his brother’s death it was carried on as GKC’s weekly.