A Short History of England by G. K. Chesterton (1917)
In my opinion, this book is wrongly-titled: it should be called A Short Commentary on How the History of England Is So Badly Taught. Chesterton put his pen to paper for this book in order to combat the many errors in early 20th Century England’s understanding, teaching, and application of its own past.
He divides the book into chapters like a history book, based on important eras and characters in the story of England, but you have to already know that history to understand his comments and refutations. It’s illuminating to see history, especially the history of the Age of Faith and the Protestant Revolt, through his insightful view which diverged so dramatically from thinkers both of his own time and now.
A hallmark of Chesterton’s style is his proclivity to highlight paradoxes in all the subjects he treats upon. It shows his deep thoughtfulness about things, but it also makes for slow, considerate reading. I enjoy meditative reading, so his style is my cup of tea. And, like the esteemed author of this brief work, I am cranky at modern interpretations of humanity, human nature, and human history. His pointing out of modernistic errors is delightful with its razor-like wit and affection for the beautiful truth of how things actually are.
If you are already a fan, you will find this book pleasing in his usual vein. Readers who have not read Chesterton at all before should attempt this book only if familiar with English history; but then they will get their first glimmerings of insight into this great writer’s phenomenal mind. (It’s a reader’s mental warm up, in a way, for his magnificent work The Everlasting Man,which was published eight years later.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
|“…tradition is truer than fashion.” (Ch. 6)
“That fictitious stories are told about a person is, nine times out of ten, extremely good evidence that there was somebody to tell them about.” (Ch. 3)
“The Catholic type of Christianity was not merely an element, it was a climate…”(Ch. 8)
“…the Parliament was the one among these mediaeval creations which ultimately consented to betray and to destroy the rest.”(Ch. 8)
“The Party System does not consist, as some suppose, of two parties, but of one. If there were two real parties, there could be no system.”(Ch. 17)
Of course I wish he had lived longer, and been able to expound upon late-modern English history, but this is brilliant and very enlightening. As an American reader I appreciate that it is written by an Englishman who loved his country and knew it, really knew it, rather than merely knew about it. As I said, this book is well worth your time. If you happen to read it (or have already read it), post below and tell me what you think.
|Chesterton on the English people:
“They are constantly colonists and emigrants; they have the name of being at home in every country. But they are in exile in their own country.”