Excerpt from G.K .Chesterton's Orthodoxy

My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with
unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery. I generally
learnt it from a nurse; that is, from the solemn and
star-appointed priestess at once of democracy and tradition.
The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now,
are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the
entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared
with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them
religion and rationalism are both abnormal, though religion is
abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong.
Fairyland is
nothing but the sunny country of common sense.
It is not earth
that judges heaven, but heaven that judges earth; so for me at
least it was not earth that criticised elfland, but elfland that
criticised the earth. I knew the magic beanstalk before I had
tasted beans; I was sure of the Man in the Moon before I was
certain of the moon. This was at one with all popular tradition.
Modern minor poets are naturalists, and talk about the bush or the brook;
but the singers of the old epics and fables were supernaturalists,
and talked about the gods of brook and bush. That is what the
moderns mean when they say that the ancients did not "appreciate Nature,"
because they said that Nature was divine. Old nurses do not
tell children about the grass, but about the fairies that dance
on the grass; and the old Greeks could not see the trees for the dryads.

But I deal here with what ethic and philosophy come from
being fed on fairy tales
. If I were describing them in detail
I could note many noble and healthy principles that arise from
them. There is the chivalrous lesson of "Jack the Giant Killer";
that giants should be killed because they are gigantic. It is
a manly mutiny against pride as such. For the rebel is older
than all the kingdoms, and the Jacobin has more tradition than
the Jacobite. There is the lesson of "Cinderella," which is
the same as that of the Magnificat--EXALTAVIT HUMILES. There
is the great lesson of "Beauty and the Beast"; that a thing must
be loved BEFORE it is loveable.
There is the terrible allegory
of the "Sleeping Beauty," which tells how the human creature was
blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how
death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep. But I am not
concerned with any of the separate statutes of elfland, but with
the whole spirit of its law, which I learnt before I could speak,
and shall retain when I cannot write. I am concerned with a
certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the
fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.


It might be stated this way. There are certain sequences
or developments (cases of one thing following another), which are,
in the true sense of the word, reasonable. They are, in the
true sense of the word, necessary. Such are mathematical and
merely logical sequences. We in fairyland (who are the most
reasonable of all creatures) admit that reason and that necessity.
For instance, if the Ugly Sisters are older than Cinderella,
it is (in an iron and awful sense) NECESSARY that Cinderella is
younger than the Ugly Sisters. There is no getting out of it.
Haeckel may talk as much fatalism about that fact as he pleases:
it really must be. If Jack is the son of a miller, a miller is
the father of Jack. Cold reason decrees it from her awful throne:
and we in fairyland submit. If the three brothers all ride horses,
there are six animals and eighteen legs involved: that is
true rationalism, and fairyland is full of it. But as I put my
head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the
natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed
that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things
that happened--dawn and death and so on--as if THEY were
rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees
bear fruit were just as NECESSARY as the fact that two and one
trees make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference
by the test of fairyland; which is the test of the imagination.
You cannot IMAGINE two and one not making three.
But you can
easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them
growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail.
These men in spectacles spoke much of a man named Newton,
who was hit by an apple, and who discovered a law. But they
could not be got to see the distinction between a true law,
a law of reason, and the mere fact of apples falling. If the
apple hit Newton's nose, Newton's nose hit the apple. That is
a true necessity: because we cannot conceive the one occurring
without the other. But we can quite well conceive the apple
not falling on his nose; we can fancy it flying ardently through
the air to hit some other nose, of which it had a more definite dislike.
We have always in our fairy tales kept this sharp distinction
between the science of mental relations, in which there really
are laws, and the science of physical facts, in which there are
no laws, but only weird repetitions. We believe in bodily miracles,
but not in mental impossibilities. We believe that a Bean-stalk
climbed up to Heaven; but that does not at all confuse our
convictions on the philosophical question of how many beans
make five.

Comments

Anonymous said…
What is this? It is interesting, but did I miss a blog?
Carole Turner said…
Yes my tattoo friend, it was called Orthodoxy, you may have to look in the January archives.

I post everyday so you better keep up :-)

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