I’ve been occupied these last couple weeks, so again I’m going to do a simple post, defined as “a post where I mostly quote other people”. But before that, an introduction.
G. K. Chesterton is an author more quoted than read. He is interesting, he is humorous, he can turn a clever phrase. But his prose is neither clean nor straight as an arrow. In a sense, Tales of the Long Bow is the perfect distillation of his style. Here are topsy-turvey tales and a topsy-turvey telling, where the author abandons the tried-and-true method of starting at the beginning.
Here is a selection of quotations from Tales of the Long Bow, including some that contain that subtle humor and wandering style that always marked Chesterton’s works.
These tales concern the doing of things recognized as impossible to do; impossible to believe; and, as the weary reader may well cry aloud, impossible to read about. Did the narrator merely say that they happened, without saying how they happened, they could easily be classified with the cow who jumped over the moon or the more introspective individual who jumped down his own throat. In short, they are all tall stories; and though tall stories may also be true stories, there is something in the very phrase appropriate to such a topsy-turvydom; for the logician will presumably class a tall story with a corpulent epigram or a long-legged essay.
For our judges are not hampered by any hide-bound code; they are progressive, like Dr. Hunter, and ally themselves on principle with the progressive forces of the age, especially those they are likely to meet out at dinner.
[part of a speech presumably supporting Dr. Hunter and his election to Parliament] “But then, for that matter, we all support Dr. Hunter. I myself have always found him quite supportable; I should say quite satisfactory. He is truly a progressive, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to watch him progress. As somebody said, I lie awake at night, and in the silence of the whole universe, I seem to hear him climbing, climbing, climbing. All the numerous patients among whom he has laboured so successfully in this locality will join in a heartfelt expression of joy if he passes to the higher world of Westminster. I trust I shall not be misunderstood. Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song.”
‘Yes; I was arrested for that.’
‘Arrested for what?’
‘Arrested for being a rich and respectable old lady,’ answered Hilary Pierce; ‘but I managed to escape that time. It was a fine sight to see the old lady clear a hedge and skedaddle across a meadow.’
The Professor had begun, as he always began, by saying that it was quite easy to explain; which was doubtless true, as he was always explaining it. But he often ended by affirming fallaciously that it was quite easy to understand, and it would be an exaggeration to say that it was always understood.
“I don’t want your talk interrupted. Still less, far, far less, do I want it uninterrupted. I mean while I’m here. A little of your scientific conversation goes a long way with me; I know what you’re like when you’re really chatty. Professor Green will say in his satirical way ‘9920.05,’ to which you will reply with quiet humour ‘75.007.’ This will be too good an opening for a witty fellow like the Professor, who will instantly retort ‘982.09.’ Not in the best taste perhaps, but a great temptation in the heat of debate.”
Again, another recognized military fact is the fact the bow is an obsolete weapon. And nothing is more irritating to a finely balanced taste than to be killed with an obsolete weapon, especially while persistently pulling the trigger of an efficient weapon, without any apparent effect.