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Produced by Georges Allaire and Martin Ward





ALARMS AND DISCURSIONS

By G. K. Chesterton



CONTENTS

1: INTRODUCTORY: ON GARGOYLES

2: THE SURRENDER OF A COCKNEY

3: THE NIGHTMARE

4: THE TELEGRAPH POLES

5: A DRAMA OF DOLLS

6: THE MAN AND HIS NEWSPAPER

7: THE APPETITE OF EARTH

8: SIMMONS AND THE SOCIAL TIE

9: CHEESE

10: THE RED TOWN

11: THE FURROWS

12: THE PHILOSOPHY OF SIGHT-SEEING

13: A CRIMINAL HEAD

14: THE WRATH OF THE ROSES

15: THE GOLD OF GLASTONBURY

16: THE FUTURISTS

17: DUKES

18: THE GLORY OF GREY

19: THE ANARCHIST

20: HOW I FOUND THE SUPERMAN

21: THE NEW HOUSE

22: THE WINGS OF STONE

23: THE THREE KINDS OF MEN

24: THE STEWARD OF THE CHILTERN HUNDREDS

25: THE FIELD OF BLOOD

26: THE STRANGENESS OF LUXURY

27: THE TRIUMPH OF THE DONKEY

28: THE WHEEL

29: FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FIVE

30: ETHANDUNE

31: THE FLAT FREAK

32: THE GARDEN OF THE SEA

33: THE SENTIMENTALIST

34: THE WHITE HORSES

35: THE LONG BOW

36: THE MODERN SCROOGE

37: THE HIGH PLAINS

38: THE CHORUS

39: A ROMANCE OF THE MARSHES




Introductory: On Gargoyles

Alone at some distance from the wasting walls of a disused abbey I found
half sunken in the grass the grey and goggle-eyed visage of one of those
graven monsters that made the ornamental water-spouts in the cathedrals
of the Middle Ages. It lay there, scoured by ancient rains or striped by
recent fungus, but still looking like the head of some huge dragon slain
by a primeval hero. And as I looked at it, I thought of the meaning of
the grotesque, and passed into some symbolic reverie of the three great
stages of art.





I

Once upon a time there lived upon an island a merry and innocent people,
mostly shepherds and tillers of the earth. They were republicans, like
all primitive and simple souls; they talked over their affairs under a
tree, and the nearest approach they had to a personal ruler was a
sort of priest or white witch who said their prayers for them. They
worshipped the sun, not idolatrously, but as the golden crown of the god
whom all such infants see almost as plainly as the sun.

Now this priest was told by his people to build a great tower, pointing
to the sky in salutation of the Sun-god; and he pondered long and
heavily before he picked his materials. For he was resolved to use
nothing that was not almost as clear and exquisite as sunshine itself;
he would use nothing that was not washed as white as the rain can wash
the heavens, nothing that did not sparkle as spotlessly as that crown of
God. He would have nothing grotesque or obscure; he would not have even
anything emphatic or even anything mysterious. He would have all the
arches as light as laughter and as candid as logic. He built the temple
in three concentric courts, which were cooler and more exquisite in
substance each than the other. For the outer wall was a hedge of white
lilies, ranked so thick that a green stalk was hardly to be seen;
and the wall within that was of crystal, which smashed the sun into a
million stars. And the wall within that, which was the tower itself, was
a tower of pure water, forced up in an everlasting fountain; and upon
the very tip and crest of that foaming spire was one big and blazing
diamond, which the water tossed up eternally and caught again as a child
catches a ball.

"Now," said the priest, "I have made a tower which is a little worthy of
the sun."




II

But about this time the island was caught in a swarm of pirates; and the
shepherds had to turn themselves into rude warriors and seamen; and at
first they were utterly broken down in blood and shame; and the pirates
might have taken the jewel flung up for ever from their sacred fount.
And then, after years of horror and humiliation, they gained a little
and began to conquer because they did not mind defeat. And the pride of
the pirates went sick within them after a few unexpected foils; and at
last the invasion rolled back into the empty seas and the island was
delivered. And for some reason after this men began to talk quite
differently about the temple and the sun. Some, indeed, said, "You must
not touch the temple; it is classical; it is perfect, since it admits
no imperfections." But the others answered, "In that it differs from
the sun, that shines on the evil and the good and on mud and monsters
everywhere. The temple is of the noon; it is made of white marble clouds
and sapphire sky. But the sun is not always of the noon. The sun dies
daily, every night he is crucified in blood and fire." Now the priest
had taught and fought through all the war, and his hair had grown white,
but his eyes had grown young. And he said, "I was wrong and they are
right. The sun, the symbol of our father, gives life to all those
earthly things that are full of ugliness and energy. All the
exaggerations are right, if they exaggerate the right thing. Let us
point to heaven with tusks and horns and fins and trunks and tails so
long as they all point to heaven. The ugly animals praise God as much
as the beautiful. The frog's eyes stand out of his head because he is
staring at heaven. The giraffe's neck is long because he is stretching
towards heaven. The donkey has ears to hear - let him hear."

And under the new inspiration they planned a gorgeous cathedral in the
Gothic manner, with all the animals of the earth crawling over it, and
all the possible ugly things making up one common beauty, because they
all appealed to the god. The columns of the temple were carved like the
necks of giraffes; the dome was like an ugly tortoise; and the highest
pinnacle was a monkey standing on his head with his tail pointing at the
sun. And yet the whole was beautiful, because it was lifted up in one
living and religious gesture as a man lifts his hands in prayer.




III

But this great plan was never properly completed. The people had brought
up on great wagons the heavy tortoise roof and the huge necks of stone,
and all the thousand and one oddities that made up that unity, the owls
and the efts and the crocodiles and the kangaroos, which hideous
by themselves might have been magnificent if reared in one definite
proportion and dedicated to the sun. For this was Gothic, this was
romantic, this was Christian art; this was the whole advance of
Shakespeare upon Sophocles. And that symbol which was to crown it all,
the ape upside down, was really Christian; for man is the ape upside
down.

But the rich, who had grown riotous in the long peace, obstructed the
thing, and in some squabble a stone struck the priest on the head and
he lost his memory. He saw piled in front of him frogs and elephants,
monkeys and giraffes, toadstools and sharks, all the ugly things of the
universe which he had collected to do honour to God. But he forgot why
he had collected them. He could not remember the design or the object.
He piled them all wildly into one heap fifty feet high; and when he had
done it all the rich and influential went into a passion of applause and
cried, "This is real art! This is Realism! This is things as they really
are!"

That, I fancy, is the only true origin of Realism. Realism is simply
Romanticism that has lost its reason. This is so not merely in the sense
of insanity but of suicide. It has lost its reason; that is its reason
for existing. The old Greeks summoned godlike things to worship their
god. The medieval Christians summoned all things to worship theirs,
dwarfs and pelicans, monkeys and madmen. The modern realists summon all
these million creatures to worship their god; and then have no god for
them to worship. Paganism was in art a pure beauty; that was the dawn.
Christianity was a beauty created by controlling a million monsters of
ugliness; and that in my belief was the zenith and the noon. Modern
art and science practically mean having the million monsters and being
unable to control them; and I will venture to call that the disruption
and the decay. The finest lengths of the Elgin marbles consist splendid
houses going to the temple of a virgin. Christianity, with its gargoyles
and grotesques, really amounted to saying this: that a donkey could
go before all the horses of the world when it was really going to the
temple. Romance means a holy donkey going to the temple. Realism means a
lost donkey going nowhere.

The fragments of futile journalism or fleeting impression which are here
collected are very like the wrecks and riven blocks that were piled in a
heap round my imaginary priest of the sun. They are very like that grey
and gaping head of stone that I found overgrown with the grass. Yet I
will venture to make even of these trivial fragments the high boast that
I am a medievalist and not a modern. That is, I really have a notion of
why I have collected all the nonsensical things there are. I have not
the patience nor perhaps the constructive intelligence to state the
connecting link between all these chaotic papers. But it could be
stated. This row of shapeless and ungainly monsters which I now
set before the reader does not consist of separate idols cut out
capriciously in lonely valleys or various islands. These monsters are
meant for the gargoyles of a definite cathedral. I have to carve the
gargoyles, because I can carve nothing else; I leave to others the
angels and the arches and the spires. But I am very sure of the style of
the architecture, and of the consecration of the church.




The Surrender of a Cockney

Evert man, though he were born in the very belfry of Bow and spent his
infancy climbing among chimneys, has waiting for him somewhere a country
house which he has never seen; but which was built for him in the very
shape of his soul. It stands patiently waiting to be found, knee-deep in
orchards of Kent or mirrored in pools of Lincoln; and when the man sees
it he remembers it, though he has never seen it before. Even I have been
forced to confess this at last, who am a Cockney, if ever there was one,
a Cockney not only on principle, but with savage pride. I have always
maintained, quite seriously, that the Lord is not in the wind or thunder
of the waste, but if anywhere in the still small voice of Fleet Street.
I sincerely maintain that Nature-worship is more morally dangerous
than the most vulgar man-worship of the cities; since it can easily be
perverted into the worship of an impersonal mystery, carelessness, or
cruelty. Thoreau would have been a jollier fellow if he had devoted
himself to a greengrocer instead of to greens. Swinburne would have
been a better moralist if he had worshipped a fishmonger instead of
worshipping the sea. I prefer the philosophy of bricks and mortar to
the philosophy of turnips. To call a man a turnip may be playful, but is
seldom respectful. But when we wish to pay emphatic honour to a man, to
praise the firmness of his nature, the squareness of his conduct, the
strong humility with which he is interlocked with his equals in silent
mutual support, then we invoke the nobler Cockney metaphor, and call him
a brick.

But, despite all these theories, I have surrendered; I have struck my
colours at sight; at a mere glimpse through the opening of a hedge. I
shall come down to living in the country, like any common Socialist or
Simple Lifer. I shall end my days in a village, in the character of
the Village Idiot, and be a spectacle and a judgment to mankind. I have
already learnt the rustic manner of leaning upon a gate; and I was thus
gymnastically occupied at the moment when my eye caught the house that
was made for me. It stood well back from the road, and was built of a
good yellow brick; it was narrow for its height, like the tower of some
Border robber; and over the front door was carved in large letters,
"1908." That last burst of sincerity, that superb scorn of antiquarian
sentiment, overwhelmed me finally. I closed my eyes in a kind of
ecstasy. My friend (who was helping me to lean on the gate) asked me
with some curiosity what I was doing.

"My dear fellow," I said, with emotion, "I am bidding farewell to
forty-three hansom cabmen."

"Well," he said, "I suppose they would think this county rather outside
the radius."

"Oh, my friend," I cried brokenly, "how beautiful London is! Why do they
only write poetry about the country? I could turn every lyric cry into
Cockney.

"'My heart leaps up when I behold
A sky-sign in the sky,'

"as I observed in a volume which is too little read, founded on the
older English poets. You never saw my 'Golden Treasury Regilded; or, The
Classics Made Cockney' - it contained some fine lines.

"'O Wild West End, thou breath of London's being,'

"or the reminiscence of Keats, beginning

"'City of smuts and mellow fogfulness.';

"I have written many such lines on the beauty of London; yet I never
realized that London was really beautiful till now. Do you ask me why?
It is because I have left it for ever."

"If you will take my advice," said my friend, "you will humbly endeavour
not to be a fool. What is the sense of this mad modern notion that every
literary man must live in the country, with the pigs and the donkeys and
the squires? Chaucer and Spenser and Milton and Dryden lived in London;
Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson came to London because they had had quite
enough of the country. And as for trumpery topical journalists like you,
why, they would cut their throats in the country. You have confessed
it yourself in your own last words. You hunger and thirst after the
streets; you think London the finest place on the planet. And if by some
miracle a Bayswater omnibus could come down this green country lane you
would utter a yell of joy."

Then a light burst upon my brain, and I turned upon him with terrible
sternness.

"Why, miserable aesthete," I said in a voice of thunder, "that is the
true country spirit! That is how the real rustic feels. The real rustic
does utter a yell of joy at the sight of a Bayswater omnibus. The real
rustic does think London the finest place on the planet. In the few
moments that I have stood by this stile, I have grown rooted here like
an ancient tree; I have been here for ages. Petulant Suburban, I am the
real rustic. I believe that the streets of London are paved with gold;
and I mean to see it before I die."

The evening breeze freshened among the little tossing trees of that
lane, and the purple evening clouds piled up and darkened behind my
Country Seat, the house that belonged to me, making, by contrast, its
yellow bricks gleam like gold. At last my friend said: "To cut it short,
then, you mean that you will live in the country because you won't like
it. What on earth will you do here; dig up the garden?"

"Dig!" I answered, in honourable scorn. "Dig! Do work at my Country
Seat; no, thank you. When I find a Country Seat, I sit in it. And for
your other objection, you are quite wrong. I do not dislike the country,
but I like the town more. Therefore the art of happiness certainly
suggests that I should live in the country and think about the town.
Modern nature-worship is all upside down. Trees and fields ought to be
the ordinary things; terraces and temples ought to be extraordinary. I
am on the side of the man who lives in the country and wants to go to
London. I abominate and abjure the man who lives in London and wants
to go to the country; I do it with all the more heartiness because I am
that sort of man myself. We must learn to love London again, as rustics
love it. Therefore (I quote again from the great Cockney version of The
Golden Treasury) -

"'Therefore, ye gas-pipes, ye asbestos? stoves,
Forbode not any severing of our loves.
I have relinquished but your earthly sight,
To hold you dear in a more distant way.
I'll love the 'buses lumbering through the wet,
Even more than when I lightly tripped as they.
The grimy colour of the London clay
Is lovely yet,'

"because I have found the house where I was really born; the tall and
quiet house from which I can see London afar off, as the miracle of man
that it is."




The Nightmare

A sunset of copper and gold had just broken down and gone to pieces in
the west, and grey colours were crawling over everything in earth and
heaven; also a wind was growing, a wind that laid a cold finger upon
flesh and spirit. The bushes at the back of my garden began to whisper
like conspirators; and then to wave like wild hands in signal. I was
trying to read by the last light that died on the lawn a long poem of
the decadent period, a poem about the old gods of Babylon and Egypt,
about their blazing and obscene temples, their cruel and colossal faces.

"Or didst thou love the God of Flies who plagued
the Hebrews and was splashed
With wine unto the waist, or Pasht who had green
beryls for her eyes?"

I read this poem because I had to review it for the Daily News; still
it was genuine poetry of its kind. It really gave out an atmosphere,
a fragrant and suffocating smoke that seemed really to come from the
Bondage of Egypt or the Burden of Tyre There is not much in common
(thank God) between my garden with the grey-green English sky-line
beyond it, and these mad visions of painted palaces huge, headless
idols and monstrous solitudes of red or golden sand. Nevertheless (as
I confessed to myself) I can fancy in such a stormy twilight some such
smell of death and fear. The ruined sunset really looks like one of
their ruined temples: a shattered heap of gold and green marble. A black
flapping thing detaches itself from one of the sombre trees and flutters
to another. I know not if it is owl or flittermouse; I could fancy it
was a black cherub, an infernal cherub of darkness, not with the wings
of a bird and the head of a baby, but with the head of a goblin and the
wings of a bat. I think, if there were light enough, I could sit here
and write some very creditable creepy tale, about how I went up the
crooked road beyond the church and met Something - say a dog, a dog with
one eye. Then I should meet a horse, perhaps, a horse without a rider,
the horse also would have one eye. Then the inhuman silence would be
broken; I should meet a man (need I say, a one-eyed man?) who would ask
me the way to my own house. Or perhaps tell me that it was burnt to the
ground. I could tell a very cosy little tale along some such lines. Or I
might dream of climbing for ever the tall dark trees above me. They are
so tall that I feel as if I should find at their tops the nests of the
angels; but in this mood they would be dark and dreadful angels; angels
of death.

Only, you see, this mood is all bosh. I do not believe in it in the
least. That one-eyed universe, with its one-eyed men and beasts, was
only created with one universal wink. At the top of the tragic trees I
should not find the Angel's Nest. I should only find the Mare's Nest;
the dreamy and divine nest is not there. In the Mare's Nest I shall
discover that dim, enormous opalescent egg from which is hatched the
Nightmare. For there is nothing so delightful as a nightmare - when you
know it is a nightmare.

That is the essential. That is the stern condition laid upon all
artists touching this luxury of fear. The terror must be fundamentally
frivolous. Sanity may play with insanity; but insanity must not be
allowed to play with sanity. Let such poets as the one I was reading in
the garden, by all means, be free to imagine what outrageous deities and
violent landscapes they like. By all means let them wander freely amid
their opium pinnacles and perspectives. But these huge gods, these
high cities, are toys; they must never for an instant be allowed to
be anything else. Man, a gigantic child, must play with Babylon and
Nineveh, with Isis and with Ashtaroth. By all means let him dream of the
Bondage of Egypt, so long as he is free from it. By all means let him
take up the Burden of Tyre, so long as he can take it lightly. But the
old gods must be his dolls, not his idols. His central sanctities, his
true possessions, should be Christian and simple. And just as a child
would cherish most a wooden horse or a sword that is a mere cross of
wood, so man, the great child, must cherish most the old plain things of
poetry and piety; that horse of wood that was the epic end of Ilium, or
that cross of wood that redeemed and conquered the world.

In one of Stevenson's letters there is a characteristically humorous
remark about the appalling impression produced on him in childhood
by the beasts with many eyes in the Book of Revelations: "If that was
heaven, what in the name of Davy Jones was hell like?" Now in sober
truth there is a magnificent idea in these monsters of the Apocalypse.
It is, I suppose, the idea that beings really more beautiful or more
universal than we are might appear to us frightful and even confused.
Especially they might seem to have senses at once more multiplex and
more staring; an idea very imaginatively seized in the multitude of
eyes. I like those monsters beneath the throne very much. But I like
them beneath the throne. It is when one of them goes wandering in
deserts and finds a throne for himself that evil faiths begin, and
there is (literally) the devil to pay - to pay in dancing girls or human
sacrifice. As long as those misshapen elemental powers are around the
throne, remember that the thing that they worship is the likeness of the
appearance of a man.

That is, I fancy, the true doctrine on the subject of Tales of Terror
and such things, which unless a man of letters do well and truly
believe, without doubt he will end by blowing his brains out or by
writing badly. Man, the central pillar of the world must be upright and
straight; around him all the trees and beasts and elements and devils
may crook and curl like smoke if they choose. All really imaginative
literature is only the contrast between the weird curves of Nature and
the straightness of the soul. Man may behold what ugliness he likes if
he is sure that he will not worship it; but there are some so weak that
they will worship a thing only because it is ugly. These must be chained
to the beautiful. It is not always wrong even to go, like Dante, to the
brink of the lowest promontory and look down at hell. It is when you
look up at hell that a serious miscalculation has probably been made.

Therefore I see no wrong in riding with the Nightmare to-night; she
whinnies to me from the rocking tree-tops and the roaring wind; I will
catch her and ride her through the awful air. Woods and weeds are alike
tugging at the roots in the rising tempest, as if all wished to fly
with us over the moon, like that wild amorous cow whose child was the
Moon-Calf. We will rise to that mad infinite where there is neither up
nor down, the high topsy-turveydom of the heavens. I will answer the
call of chaos and old night. I will ride on the Nightmare; but she shall
not ride on me.




The Telegraph Poles

My friend and I were walking in one of those wastes of pine-wood which
make inland seas of solitude in every part of Western Europe; which have
the true terror of a desert, since they are uniform, and so one may lose
one's way in them. Stiff, straight, and similar, stood up all around
us the pines of the wood, like the pikes of a silent mutiny. There is a
truth in talking of the variety of Nature; but I think that Nature often
shows her chief strangeness in her sameness. There is a weird rhythm in
this very repetition; it is as if the earth were resolved to repeat a
single shape until the shape shall turn terrible.

Have you ever tried the experiment of saying some plain word, such as
"dog," thirty times? By the thirtieth time it has become a word like
"snark" or "pobble." It does not become tame, it becomes wild, by
repetition. In the end a dog walks about as startling and undecipherable
as Leviathan or Croquemitaine.

It may be that this explains the repetitions in Nature, it may be for
this reason that there are so many million leaves and pebbles. Perhaps
they are not repeated so that they may grow familiar. Perhaps they are
repeated only in the hope that they may at last grow unfamiliar. Perhaps
a man is not startled at the first cat he sees, but jumps into the air
with surprise at the seventy-ninth cat. Perhaps he has to pass through
thousands of pine trees before he finds the one that is really a pine
tree. However this may be, there is something singularly thrilling, even
something urgent and intolerant, about the endless forest repetitions;
there is the hint of something like madness in that musical monotony of
the pines.

I said something like this to my friend; and he answered with sardonic


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