Chesterton: A BIO-SKETCH

Gilbert Keith Chesterton is one of the most celebrated and reverently esteemed figures in modern literature. Endearingly and familiarly known as "G.K.," he was a phenomenally prolific writer. After achieving early success as an illustrator, he subsequently established his fame as a playwright, novelist, poet, literary commentator, pamphleteer, essayist, lecturer, apologist, and editor. The depth and range of his work are astounding.

   Born in Kensington, England in 1874, he had a vigorous intelligence and an amazing balance of youthful nature which moved one of his early schoolmasters to caution Chesterton's mother to cherish her "six foot of genius." As a youth, he was absent-minded, good-natured, and stubbornly loyal to his ideals, traits he consistently exhibited throughout his entire life. During his school days, he was a gaunt, scarecrow of a boy, but later developed an immense, rotund frame more complementary to his towering height. Commensurate with his impressive physical proportions were his merry wit, charming personality, and natural affability.

   Because of the talent Chesterton showed for sketching and painting, his parents sent him to the Slade School of Art, and it was as an illustrator that he first became successful. However, it soon became apparent that his true milieu was in the field of writing.

   In 1901 he married Frances Blogg. She devoted herself completely to G.K., relieving him of all concern with mundane affairs, so that he was able to concentrate all his vast energy on his literary efforts. Although he claimed to have been a pagan at the age of twelve and an agnostic at sixteen, his marriage influenced him to embrace Anglicanism. But he was irresistibly drawn to Catholicism and in 1922, was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Father John O'Connor, who became the Father Brown of Chesterton's famous detective stories.

   His first published volumes were books of verse, but he rapidly branched into the wider areas of dogma, ethics, art, politics, sociology, and literature. He was a fearless thinker, outspoken orator, sober apologist, and powerful exponent of human rights. A serious attack, in 1903, against theism in general and Christianity in particular by Robert Blatchford, a well-known newspaper editor, impelled Chesterton to seize the gauntlet of refutation. His reply was highly successful, becoming the early formulation of his own philosophy and religious  faith, which was to be set forth so brilliantly and explicitly five years later in Orthodoxy.

   His scope of interests was almost endless. The Napoleon of Notting Hill represented his fictionalized opposition to imperialism; Heretics provided penetrating insight into his maturing thought on the serious problems of life; his studies of Robert Browning and Charles Dickens won him fame as a literary critic; What's Wrong with the World? set forth his social creed; and his Autobiography gave glowing testimony to his immense pride in being a Catholic. But the most scintillating synthesis of his philosophy and deeply religious faith was manifested in his masterpiece, Orthodoxy, written when he was only thirty-four and which tells, in his inimitable, soaring prose, of his earth-shaking discovery that orthodoxy is the only satisfactory answer to the perplexing riddle of the universe.

   Of his four greatest books-----Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis of Assisi-----Orthodoxy is perhaps the most outstanding example of the originality of his style and the brilliance of his thought.

   Among the giants of modern literature, Chesterton stands monumentally tall, and the enduring quality of his writings amply testifies to the force and power of his impact on the twentieth century.

He is known as "the Apostle of Common Sense," which is anything but common these days. He died in 1936.